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The Full New York Times Innovation Report

The Full New York Times Innovation Report


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Published by Luciana Moherdaui
Maio de 2014
Maio de 2014

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Published by: Luciana Moherdaui on May 22, 2014
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March 24, 2014


Innovation  March 24, 2014


Executive Summary

The New York Times is winning at journalism. Of all
the challenges facing a media company in the digital age, producing great journalism is the hardest.
Our daily report is deep, broad, smart and engaging

­ and we’ve got a huge lead over the competition.
At the same time, we are falling behind in a second critical area: the art and science of getting our
journalism to readers. We have always cared about
the reach and impact of our work, but we haven’t
done enough to crack that code in the digital era.
This is where our competitors are pushing ahead
of us. The Washington Post and The Wall Street
Journal have announced aggressive moves in recent months to remake themselves for this age. First
Look Media and Vox Media are creating newsrooms
custom-built for digital. The Guardian and USA
Today have embraced emerging best practices that
have helped grow readership. And Huffington Post

and Flipboard often get more traffic from Times
journalism than we do.
In contrast, over the last year The Times has
watched readership fall significantly. Not only is the
audience on our website shrinking but our audience
on our smartphone apps has dipped, an extremely
worrying sign on a growing platform.
Our core mission remains producing the world’s
best journalism. But with the endless upheaval
in technology, reader habits and the entire business model, The Times needs to pursue smart new
strategies for growing our audience. The urgency is
only growing because digital media is getting more
crowded, better funded and far more innovative.
The first section of this report explores in detail
the need for the newsroom to take the lead in getting more readers to spend more time reading more
of our journalism. It offers specific strategies and
tactics to accomplish this goal, often called audience

Pulitzer Day, April 2013


Simply offering recommendations for improving
our efforts to get our journalism to readers is not
enough, however. The difficulties we face in audience development are symptomatic of our need to
become a more nimble, digitally focused newsroom
that can thrive in a landscape of constant change.
The second part of this report examines specific
recommendations that we believe will help strengthen our newsroom for the digital era. That means
taking more time to assess the landscape and chart
the road ahead, rethink print-centric traditions, use
experiments and data to inform decisions, hire and
empower the right digital talent and work hand in
hand with reader-focused departments on the business side. These needs are all deeply intertwined —
getting better at one will help all the others.
This is a moment we are well positioned to seize.
The anxiety that filled the newsroom only a few
years ago has mostly dissipated. The success of the
paywall has provided financial stability as we become more digitally focused. The sale of other properties like The Boston Globe has allowed the leadership to focus squarely on The New York Times. Both
Mark Thompson and Jill Abramson have established
themselves as willing and eager to push the company in new, sometimes uncomfortable directions.
Indeed, all of us have been struck by the news-

room’s momentum in many critical areas that we
discuss throughout the report — key digital promotions, promising product initiatives, the mobile
imperative, and productive collaborations with the
business side. The masthead recently embraced analytics and is in the process of building up a team
that will help the newsroom use data to inform decisions, which would have been one of our main recommendations.
That momentum has contributed to a new sense
of openness and opportunity across the organization. Our company goals speak volumes: Strategy
for Growth, Speed and Agility, Unlocking the Power
of Data, and One NYT. The newsroom, once resistant to change, is energized by these recent successes and eager to tackle difficult questions and try new
things. And the business side, with a growing bench
of talent and an increasingly shared mission of serving readers, is eager for the newsroom lead the way.
Our overarching goal is to help the masthead
build on that momentum and take advantage of that
For this report, we have pulled together information and insights to help you do that, based on hundreds of interviews, a deep dive into our operations,
a close look at the competitive landscape and, with
that rarest of journalistic privileges, the time to step

The Times Reaches A Vast Print And Digital Audience....




Web readers in U.S.
per month

Mobile readers in
U.S. per month

News Alerts audience

Twitter followers





E-Mail Newsletters



Facebook followers

Print Subscribers

Digital Subscribers

Executive Summary

back and think.
Some of these recommendations will seem obvious; others may seem more controversial at first
glance. All were developed with full commitment to
the values of The Times and with the understanding
that we have few extra resources lying around.
The few new roles we have proposed are not focused on creating new journalism; their goal is to get
more out of the journalism we are already creating.
We want to help tune the newsroom engine to get all
the cylinders firing more efficiently.
It should be stated explicitly that there is no single
transformational idea in this report. Transformation can be a dangerous word in our current environment because it suggests a shift from one solid
state to another; it implies there is an end point. Instead, we have watched the dizzying growth of smart
phones and tablets, even as we are still figuring out
the web. We have watched the massive migration of
readers to social media even as we were redesigning
our home page.
Difficult new questions will arrive with each new
shift. In all likelihood, we will spend the rest of our
careers wrestling with them. The leader of another
organization called this era, “A period of muddling
Not a single person among the hundreds we inter-

viewed ever suggested tinkering with the journalistic
values and integrity that make the Times the greatest journalistic institution in the world. But we must
evolve, and quickly, to maintain that status over the
coming decades.

...But Many Competitors Are Growing Faster
Huffington Post
surpassed us years ago
in reader traffic, and
BuzzFeed pulled ahead
in 2013.


Huffington Post
USA Today
New York Times
Wall Street Journal
Vox Media

APR 2013

JUN 2013

AUG 2013

OCT 2013

DEC 2013

JAN 2014


Our Proposals, In Brief
More than ever, the hard work of growing our audience falls squarely on the newsroom. The realities
of a cluttered Internet and distracted mobile world
require extra effort to get our journalism to readers.
This work requires creativity, editorial judgment
and offers us the chance to ensure that our journalism lands with even greater impact.
There should be a senior newsroom leader in
charge of Audience Development, but this effort

should be everyone’s job. We explore several areas that we believe can position us for continued
growth: discovery (how we package and distribute
our journalism), promotion (how we call attention
to our journalism) and connection (how we create
a two-way relationship with readers that deepens
their loyalty). At both digital and traditional competitors, these functions are now considered part of
the newsroom’s responsibilities.

This shift would provide the newsroom, virtually
overnight, with many of the necessary skills and
insights to take our digital report to the next level.
There are a number of departments and units, most
of which are considered part of the business side,
that are explicitly focused on the reader experience,
including Design, Technology, Consumer Insight
Group, R&D and Product.

for better integration. Recent initiatives, including
NYT Now, have shown the benefits of collaboration
across these departments. We are not proposing a
wholesale reorganization. But we do believe simply
issuing a new policy ­ collaborating with our col—
leagues focused on reader experience is encouraged
and expected ­ would send a powerful signal and

unlock a huge store of creative energy and insights.

These functions represent a clear opportunity

Many newsroom leaders are so consumed with the
demands of the daily report that they have little time
to step back and think about long-term questions.
When we were simply a newspaper, this singular focus made sense. But we must now juggle print, the
web, apps, newsletters, news alerts, social media,
video, an international edition and a range of standalone products.
Our suggestion is to create a small strategy team
with the central role of advising the masthead. The


Executive Summary

team would keep newsroom leaders apprised of
competitors’ strategies, changing technology and
shifting reader behavior. It would help track projects around the company that affect our digital report, help the masthead set and evaluate priorities
and conduct occasional deep dives to answer specific questions. And it would facilitate desk-level experiments and communicate the results back to the
newsroom to ensure we’re exploring new areas and
learning from our efforts.

Stories are typically filed late in the day. Our mobile
apps are organized by print sections. Desks meticulously lay out their sections but spend little time
thinking about social strategies. Traditional reporting skills are the top priority in hiring and promotion. The habits and traditions built over a century
and a half of putting out the paper are a powerful,
conservative force as we transition to digital ­­­— none
more so than the gravitational pull of Page One.
Some of our traditional competitors have aggres-

sively reorganized around a digital-first rather than
a print-first schedule. The health and profitability
of our print paper means we don’t yet need to follow them down this path. But it is essential to begin
the work of questioning our print-centric traditions,
conducting a comprehensive assessment of our digital needs, and imagining the newsroom of the future.
This means reassessing everything from our roster
of talent to our organizational structure to what we
do and how we do it.


Our Mission (And How It Evolved)
Six months ago, you asked A.G. Sulzberger to pull
together some of the most forward-thinking minds
from around the newsroom to develop smart, sound
ways to lift our fortunes through our journalism.
The eight-person team – with the help of two colleagues from the strategy group – included digital,
design and business skills anchored to a rock-solid
journalistic foundation.
We spent the first few months reporting. We went
on a listening tour of the business side, we met with
hundreds of employees from around the newsroom,
we interviewed leaders at dozens of other news organizations and spent time with readers. We pored
over internal analytics, studied competing web sites,
and read more reports, presentations and articles
about changes in digital media than we can count.
In effect, we did a deep-dive reporting project on
our own paper and industry. By the end, we had a
strong sense of both the opportunities and internal
roadblocks that need to be addressed to thrive in a
rapidly changing digital media landscape.
This report reflects a critical shift from the original mission. Though the initial assumption was that
we would emerge with ideas for a stand-alone product — such as NYT Now — our reporting showed us
that the more urgent need was to focus on the core
of The New York Times.
Helping The Times adjust to this moment of
promise and peril, we concluded, would have greater journalistic and financial impact than virtually
any product idea we might have suggested. That
insight was supported almost unanimously by the
digital newsroom, our leadership and our business
Focusing on the core is harder than starting something new because every proposal threatens tradition and turf. But the need is more urgent because
of the accelerating pace of change and the overstretched newsroom resources.
Since that pivot from the original mission, we


Executive Summary

have focused our work around new challenges: Let’s
find ways to leverage The Times’ journalism and talents in even smarter and more effective ways. Let’s
think through the most persistent and difficult questions that have nagged at The Times. Let’s identify
and share emerging opportunities and best practices. Let’s identify the roadblocks and suggest ways to
remove them.
This report represents our best attempt to provide answers. Our hope is that helping the masthead
identify some of the most pressing problems and
most promising opportunities will smooth the way
for innovators inside the building.
Finally, we are well aware that this newsroom has
invested a lot of talent and time in this group. The
report is just one return on that investment. Another
is that you have produced eight committed evangelists to help push the newsroom to embrace its digital future. We will do our part to spread the lessons
and insights captured here across the organization.

The Team
Adam B. Ellick

Business Columnist

Studied Disruptive Innovation, Design
Thinking, and Social Television at the
Harvard Business School/MIT Media
Lab. Bahrain and Pakistan coverage
won consecutive Overseas Press Club

Interviewed more than 300 C.E.O.s for
Corner Office, and wrote two books on
leadership, management and culture.
Edited Pulitzer-winning series on the
dangers of distracted driving.

A.G. Sulzberger

Amy O’Leary

Metro Assistant Editor

Technology Reporter

Worked on Continuous News, Times
Topics, and Video before joining the
City Room blog. Opened the Kansas
City bureau to expand coverage of the

Worked as an editor, producer,
reporter and manager in her seven
years at The Times. Her work has
been nominated for three Emmy
awards, and won both a Loeb and
Knight-Batten award.

Andrew Phelps

Elena Gianni

Mobile Assistant Editor

User Experience Designer

Worked in radio, television and print,
and covered media for a digital
startup. Spearheaded the launch
of Today’s Paper, and led a project
to enhance the breaking news
experience on mobile devices.

Design innovation consultant with
a background in engineering and
media studies. Worked on the NYT5
redesign, conducting research and
prototyping interactions.

Louise Story

Charles Duhigg

Investigations Reporter

Business Reporter

Yale M.B.A. Former media reporter.
Covered Wall Street during the
financial crisis, anchored Times video
show, and business correspondent on
“The Takeaway”

Harvard M.B.A., former founder
and C.E.O. of SWPA Education
Management. Part of the team that
wrote the Pulitzer-winning “The
iEconomy” series.

Jon Galinsky

Ben Peskoe

Strategy Manager

Strategy Manager

Managing Editor of Williams College
newspaper. Interned at a newspaper
in Ethiopia. Led the strategy team’s
planning for selling our digital
subscriptions in 2014.


Adam Bryant

Senior Video Journalist

Wrote presentation to NYT Board of
Directors that recommended building
NYT Now, Opinion and Cooking

Larry Ingrassia

Ian Fisher

Deputy Managing Editor

Assistant Managing Editor


We Interviewed:
The New York Times: AJ Chavar, Al Ming, Alex Hardiman, Alex MacCallum, Alex Minkow, Alexis Lloyd, Allen Tan, Amanda
Cox, Amy Harmon, Andrew Keh, Andrew Kueneman, Andrew Rosenthal, Andrew Ross Sorkin, Andy Wright, Anh Dang, Ann
Derry, Annie Lowrey, Ariane Bernard, Aron Pilhofer, Arthur Sulzberger, Ashley Southall, Ashwin Seshagiri, Barbara De Wilde,
Ben French, Ben Koski, Ben Monnie, Bill Brink, Bill Carter, Bill Schmidt, Blake Wilson, Boris Chen, Brad Kagawa, Brian Hamman, Brian Murphy, Bruce Headlam, C.J. Chivers, Carl Hulse, Carolyn Ryan, Catrin Einhorn, Chad Ghastin, Cheryl Yau, Chris
Wiggins, Christine Haughney, Christine Hung, Christine Kay, Chrys Wu, Cliff Levy, Coral Davenport, Craig Hunter, Cynthia
Collins, Damien Cave, Damon Darlin, Dan Watkin, Dana Canedy, Danielle Mattoon, Danielle Rhodes Ha, David Carr, David
Gelles, David Leonhardt, David Perpich, David Scull, Dean Baquet, Dean Chang, Dean Murphy, Deborah Acosta, Deborah
Needleman, Deborah Sontag, Denise Warren, Desiree Shoe, Eileen Murphy, Elizabeth Rosenthal, Elliot Malkin, Emily Rueb,
Eric Lipton, Erik Hinton, Erik Piepenburg, Ethan Bronner, Evan Sandhaus, Gabe Johnson, Geoff Isenman, Gerry Marzorati,
Gina Kolata, Ginger Thompson, Glenn Kramon, Hamilton Boardman, Hannah Farfield, Heather Murphy, Hugh Mandeville,
Hugo Lindgren, Ian Adelman, Ian Fisher, Jacky Myint, James Estrin, James Robinson, Jamie Abir, Jan Hoffman, Janet Elder,
Jason Spingarn-Koff, Jason Stallman, Jeff Marcus, Jenna Wortham, Jennifer Parrucci, Jennifer Steinhauer, Jeremy Peters, Jill
Abramson, Jim Boehmer, Jim Dao, Jim Dryfoos, Jim Glanz, Jim Rutenberg, Joan Huang, Jodi Kantor, Joe Kahn, John Geddes,
John Geraci, John Niedermeyer, John Schwartz, Jon Huang, Jon Kelly, Jonathan Ellis, Jonathan Martin, Jonathan Weisman,
Joseph Burgess, Josh Haner, Josh Williams, Julie Bloom, Julie Bosman, Justin Stile, Kim Severson, KJ Dell’Antonia, Kristi
Reilly, Laura Chang, Laura Holson, Lauren Kern, Lawrence Ingrassia, Leslie Kaufman, Lexi Mainland, Libby Gery, Libby
Rosenthal, Marc Frons, Marc Lavalle, Margaret Sullivan, Mark Bittman, Mark Mazetti, Mark Silver, Mark Thompson, Martin
Nisenholtz, Mary Suh, Matt Apuzzo, Matt Boggie, Matt Erikson, Matt Purdy, Matthew Boggie, Meaghan Looram, Meghan
Louttit, Meredith Levien, Michael Corkery, Michael Dewar, Michael Golden, Michael Greenspon, Michael Luo, Michael
Schmidt, Michael Shear, Michael Slackman, Michele McNally, Mike McIntire, Mike Zimablist, Monica Davey, Monica Drake,
Nancy Donaldson, Nathan Ashby-Kuhlman, Nick Bilton, Nick Kristof, Nicole Breskin, Noam Cohen, Pamela Paul, Patrick LaForge, Paul Smurl, Paul Werdel, Paul Yorke, Peter Baker, Peter Lattman, Peter Renz, Rachel Golden, Rajiv Pant, Rajiv Pant,
Rebecca Corbett, Rebecca Howard, Rebecca Ruiz, Renda Morton, Rich Meislin, Rob Mackey, Roland Caputo, Sam Dolnick,
Sam Manchester, Sam Sifton, Samantha Henig, Santiago Alfonso-Lord, Sarah Cohen, Sewell Chan, Shane Murray, Shayla
Harris, Sheryle Stolberg, Shreeya Sinha, Stephanie Saul, Steve Duenes, Steven Rocker, Susan Chira, Susan Edgerly, Susan
Wessling, Tahir Khan, Tara Parker Pope, Tom Bodkin, Tom Carley, Tom Jolly, Tony Brancato, Tony Scott, Torben Brooks, Tyson
Evans, Victoria Shannon, Walt Bogdanich, Wendell Jamieson, Will Bardeen, William Goss, Willie Rashbaum, Yasmin Namini,
Zander Baron, Zena Bakarat. External: Brian Mcandrews, Adam Davidson, Adam Moss, Adam Orme, Al Anstey, Alex Howard, Alexis Madrigal, Ali Gharib, Ali Velshi, Amanda Michel, Amanda Zamora, Anders Fink, Andrea Shiah, Andrew Fitzgerald,
Andrew Ginsburg, Andrew Jaspan, Ann Mack, Anna Bryant, Annie Wamke, Anthea Watson-Strong, Ben Leher, Bob Pittman,
Braxton Mckee, Brianna Cotter, Chris Anderson, Chris Cunningham, Chris Mckee , Christina Cacioppo, Dan Collarusso, Danielle Gould, Dave Kliman, Dave Morgan, David Callaway, David Gehring, David Kenny, Dayna Grayson, Don Graham, Doreen
Lorenzo, Eddie Kim, Eilidh Dickson, Elisabeth Job, Ellen Rubeefalls, Ellena Lee, Emily Brill, Enrique Acevdeo, Esther Dyson,
Ethan Zuckerman, Fabio, Farhan Zafar, Gabe Dance, Gary Portuesi, Gideon Lichfield, Henry Abbott, Henry Blodget, Herb
Kim, Jacek Barcikowski, Jacob Weisberg, Jake Levine, James Bennett, Jane Fritsch, Janet Camp, Jed Alpert, Jeremy Tarling,
Jesse Shapsins, Jigar Mehta, John Lee, Josh Cohen, Josh Miller, Josh Quittner, Joshua Noble, Judy Winitzer, Julia Thompkins,
Justin Smith, Kate Lee, Ken Lerer, Ken Loveless, Kevin Delaney, Laura Evans, Libby Brittain, Lina Srivastava, Ludwig Siegele,
Magid Abraham, Mahira Chishty, Marcus Mckee, Mark Allen, Matt Mullin, Matt Singer, Mayo Nissen, Megan White, Meghan
Peters, Michael Lebowitz, Michael Wertheim, Miriam Elder, Nick Beim, Norman Pollack, Paul Berry, Peter Goodman, Philippe
Browning, Prascilla, Randi Zuckerberg, Ray Day, Richard Ii Hornos, Richard Luettgen, Rick Berke, Rishad Tobaccowala, Rob
Grimshaw, Robert Krulwich, Robin Pembrooke, Robin Sloan, Ryan Jacoby, Siena Giraldi, Soraya Dorabi, Sravanthi Agrawal,
Steve Brill, Stine Hoeck Forsberg, Susan Taing, Tim Carmody, Tom Conrad, Tony Haile, Vadim Lauruskik, Valerie Streit, Vanessa Arantes Nuzzo, Vivian Schiller, Wesley Morris, Zach Seward, Zach Wise.


Executive Summary


A User’s Guide to This Report
In the pages that follow, you will find a brief discussion of our competitors and the disruptive forces
that have taken hold of our industry.
The rest of the report is in two chapters — Growing
Our Audience and Strengthening Our Newsrroom —
that flesh out the themes in this executive summary,
with more detail, context and specific recommendations, based on our reporting inside and outside
the building. We offer long-term goals and some
possible short-term steps to get there.
In nearly every case, the questions we explore are
more important than the solutions we offer. And
there can be legitimate debate around the best solutions to many of them.
We have done our best not to overwhelm readers with our reporting. We’ve attached appendices
that list all the people we’ve interviewed. The quotes


Executive Summary

we’ve used are each representative of a dozen or
more conversations; they’re not outliers. Many are
anonymous — not ideal, but essential to encouraging frank conversation.
As much as possible we’ve distilled information
into charts and graphs. We have also included sidebars to explore topics and share key insights from
our reporting.

Disruption: A Quick Overview
Of The Competitive Landscape

Vox Media’s Chicago office. Vox surpassed The Wall Street Journal in total digital readership in 2013.


News in the News:
A Busy Six Months
As a reminder of just how rapidly new players are
disrupting our business, consider what has happened in the six months since our group’s work began. Not long ago, it would have been hard to imagine The Washington Post controlled by anyone but
the Graham family. Now we are waiting to see what
Jeff Bezos does to remake this storied institution.
“Even if the Post lost $100 million a year,” wrote
Farhad Manjoo, “Bezos’ personal fortune could fund
it for 252 years.”
Soon after Bezos bought the Post for $250 million,
Pierre Omidyar, the eBay co-founder, pledged $250
million to create First Look Media,
a hybrid operation with a nonprofit
newsroom and for-profit technology company. It hired well-known
journalists like Glenn Greenwald
and Laura Poitras to launch several
digital magazines with top-notch
data analysts, visual designers and
technologists. “Our goal is to experiment, innovate
and overcome existing obstacles — to make it easier
for journalists to deliver the transformative stories
we all need,” Omidyar said in his announcement.
Other digital media companies poured more
money into the news business, luring talent from
established players. Vox Media — which raised another $40 million in October — wooed Ezra Klein
from The Post. Yahoo hired David Pogue to create a
consumer tech vertical and signed up Katie Couric
to become a “global anchor.” Kara Swisher and Walt
Mossberg left the Journal to launch Re/code.
BuzzFeed and Upworthy continued their relentless growth while making new investments in quality journalism. And Facebook, Twitter and LinkedIn
waded deeper into the journalism business by hiring
editors and announcing new products, like Facebook’s Paper, aimed at news consumers.
Traditional media outlets were just as active. The
Washington Post started the Upworthy-inspired

Know More, which took just three weeks to become
the company’s biggest blog. In March, the company
opened an outpost in Manhattan, called WPNYC, to
attract top digital talent. “The thing about the site is
that it’s a very classic legacy media site — a representation of the print medium in digital,” said The
Post’s Greg Franczyk. “We’re shifting the paradigm
to designing a website that works for our users and
building the technology that meets the need.”
Digital-first is the new mantra from the old guard.
The Financial Times and USA Today have made the
switch, and The Journal has pledged to join those
ranks, staffing a new “real-time news desk” with 60
people and an “audience-engagement desk” with
social-media editors and analytics specialists.
One of the largest chains of local newspapers in
the United States, which tellingly
renamed itself Digital First Media,
announced Project Unbolt, explaining that its goal is “to take a massive
wrench to the culture and workflow of our newsrooms and unbolt
them,” since “newsrooms are still
largely print newsrooms with digital operations ‘bolted on.’”
And The San Francisco Chronicle launched “an
off-site startup-style incubator.” As Audrey Cooper,
the managing editor, explained, “We hope to eventually get to the point where instead of being a newspaper company that produces websites, we think of
ourselves as a digital company that also produces a
newspaper. Unless you flip that switch, I don’t think
any newspaper will be truly successful at negotiating
the digital switchover.”
The Times has hardly been idle, of course. Over
the last six months, the company unveiled a major
redesign of NYTimes.com, the first in seven years.
We launched The International New York Times.
We pushed into the new world of native advertising
(as did Hearst, The Post, BBC, The Guardian and
The Wall Street Journal). And we completed the sale
of The Boston Globe to John Henry, ushering in an
era in which The New York Times is the Times Company’s only business.

A relentless run
of headlines from
new and old
media companies.


Executive Summary | Competitive Landscape

Washington Post closes sale to Jeff Bezos for $250 million.
Pierre Omidyar pledges $250 million to a new digital-first venture, First Look Media.
Times Co. closes sale of The Boston Globe to John Henry for $70 million.
Vox Media raises $40 million in venture capital.
The Post launches Upworthy-inspired Know More, which takes only three weeks to
become the company’s biggest blog.
Yahoo hires a series of high-profile journalists, including David Pogue and Katie Couric.
Digital First Media rolls out metered paywalls for all 75 of its Media News and Journal
Register sites.
The Journal launches an “audience engagement team,” combining social-media and analytics experts.
An interactive news app — not an article — becomes The Times’s most popular story of all time.
BuzzFeed expands its foreign and investigative reporting staff.

Kara Swisher and Walt Mossberg leave the Journal to launch Re/code.
Ezra Klein leaves The Post to join Vox Media.
Marty Baron announces major new digital initiatives at The Post, including a breakingnews desk.
The Wall Street Journal creates a digital-first “real-time news desk.”
Digital First Media announces Project Unbolt.
Facebook introduces Paper, a Flipboard-like mobile news-reading app.
San Francisco Chronicle launches “an off-site startup-style incubator.”
Business Insider surpasses The Journal in combined digital audience.
The Huffington Post announced a global partnership with a think tank at Davos.
Upworthy announces “attention minutes” as its new algorithm for measuring reader engagement.
ProPublica begins selling data gathered from its reporting projects in the ProPublica Data Store.
The Post launches WPNYC, a Manhattan outpost for design and development.
Vice News launched with a staff of roughly 100 journalists.
The new FiveThirtyEight is unveiled.
NYT Now, Cooking and The Upshot are prepared for launch.


What Is Disruption?
Disruption is a predictable pattern across many industries in which fledgling companies use new technology to offer cheaper and inferior alternatives to
products sold by established players (think Toyota
taking on Detroit decades ago). Today, a pack of
news startups are hoping to “disrupt” our industry

by attacking the strongest incumbent — The New
York Times. How does disruption work? Should we
be defending our position, or disrupting ourselves?
And can’t we just dismiss the BuzzFeeds of the
world, with their listicles and cat videos?
Here’s a quick primer on the disruption cycle:



Incumbents treat innovation as a series of incremental improvements. They focus on improving the
quality of their premium products to sustain their
current business model.
For The Times, a sustaining innovation might be






do not seem like a threat. Their products are cheaper, with poor quality — to begin with.
For BuzzFeed, a disruptive innovation might be
social media distribution.


2. Disruptors introduce new products that, at first,

disru tions

usually by adapting a new technology. The flashpoint comes when their products become “good
enough” for most customers.
They are now poised to grow by taking market
share from incumbents.


3. Over time, disruptors improve their product,


Introduced by an “outsider”
Less expensive than existing products
Targeting underserved or new markets
Initially inferior to existing products
Advanced by an enabling technology


Executive Summary | Competitive Landscape

Kodak and its film-based cameras were the classic
incumbents: a traditional, respected company offering a high-quality product to a mass market.
Then came digital cameras. Film companies
laughed at the poor shutter speed and fuzzy images
of early digital cameras.
The photos weren’t great, but digital cameras better addressed the user’s primary need: to capture
and share moments. It was easier and cheaper to
take a digital picture, download it onto your computer and email it to many people than it was to buy
film, print dozens of high quality photos at a shop

and mail copies to friends.
When the inferior and cheaper digital product
became “good enough” for customers, it disrupted
the incumbent.
Digital cameras seemed poised to own the market. Then came flip-phone cameras. They offered
even lower quality photos. And digital camera companies mocked their grainy images. But again, users opted for a lesser product that was more convenient. They’d rather have a “good enough” camera
in their phone then lug a better but bulky digital
camera. When the flip-phone camera became “good
enough,” it disrupted the incumbent.

The first digital cameras were
mocked for poor shutter speed
and fuzzy images.

Now, “Kodak memories” are a
distant memory. What did you
take your last picture with?

“Culturally, I think we have operated
as if we had the formula figured
out, and it was all about optimizing,
in its various constituent parts, the
formula. Now it is about discovering
the new formula.” — Satya Nadella,
Microsoft’s new CEO

“The world of business really separates
into two groups. Entrepreneurs who
are disrupting the status quo are
attackers. Large organizations are
defenders.” —Steve Case, CEO of
Revolution, and a founder of AOL


A Competitor Cheat Sheet
Founded by Jonah Peretti in 2006, BuzzFeed built a
huge audience by using data to help stories go viral.
The company is known for rapidly experimenting
with story formats and is now hiring journalists to
move into traditional news coverage.

Aggressive social distribution
Highly shareable content
Experimental story forms

130M unique visitors
$40M in 2013 revenue



Circa is a mobile news app that aggregates reporting from a variety of sources and repackages each
story into running story threads for smartphones.
The app allows users to follow ongoing stories and
subscribe to alerts for updates.




ESPN is expanding its digital offerings, with video and audio (live and on-demand), sports-related tools (fantasy football, score alerts) and subbrands based on star journalists (Grantland with
Bill Simmons, FiveThirtyEight with Nate Silver).

First Look Media is a new digital journalism venture
backed with $250 million from eBay co-founder
Pierre Omidyar. It has recruited brand-name journalists like Glenn Greenwald, Laura Poitras and
Matt Taibbi to aggressively cover hard news.

Bullet-point summaries
Mobile push alerts
Allowing users to follow stories

$3.4M in funding

Mobile push alerts
User tools/service journalism
“Pulling back the curtain” on
big stories

56M unique visitors

Brand-name journalists
Developers on every desk
Single-topic digital magazines

$250M in funding guarantees;
$50M already invested
About 20 veteran journalists

Flipboard is a highly visual news aggregator designed for
phones and tablets. Content is aggregated from a variety
of publishers and grouped into themed collections.
Readers can follow collections, topics or publications.




Executive Summary | Competitive Landscape

Beautiful user interface
Built on users’ social networks

90M users
Raised $50M round; valued at
Third-largest driver of mobile
traffic to NYT



The Guardian is expanding its digital-only U.S.
newsroom, which now has approximately 60
journalists. It led early coverage of the Snowden
leaks, largely through the work of columnist Glenn


Promotion and outreach
“Comment Is Free” platform
Data visualizations

Avg. 2013 non-U.S. audience:
27M (vs.17M for NYT)
Avg. 2013 U.S. audience:
12M (vs. 33M for NYT)



The Huffington Post, sold to AOL in 2011 for $315 million, surged in popularity during the 2008 presidential
campaign. In addition to original reporting, the site publishes the work of outside contributors and aggregates
content from The Times and other sources.


LinkedIn is a social network for professionals. It entered
publishing in earnest through its acquisition of Pulse
in 2013 and is building out its “Influencer” network of
contributors who post original content.

Founded by former Twitter CEO Evan Williams,
Medium is an open publishing platform that allows
anyone to write and distribute content. Medium’s
editorial team curates the best content into “collections.” Readers can follow collections and individual writers.

Quartz is a business-news site owned by Atlantic Media
and edited by Kevin Delaney, a former managing editor
at The Wall Street Journal. It operates a mobile-optimized website, rather than native apps, and drives audience growth through daily email newsletters.

Open commenting platform
Aggressive use of SEO and
social media

Avg. 2013 U.S. audience:
32M, reaching high of 40M in
November (vs. 33M for NYT)

“Influencer” publishing
Allowing users to follow topics

65M unique U.S. visitors,
180M globally
$1.5B in total revenue,
$360M in advertising

Simple publishing platform
Smart writers and editors
Rich visual design

Average 250K monthly users

Chartbuilder tool for journalists
Responsive design
“Obsessions” in lieu of
traditional beats or sections

5M unique visitors
50K daily email subscribers


Vox Media operates a collection of vertical publications, including SB Nation (sports), The Verge
(tech), Curbed (real estate), Polygon (gaming),
Racked (fashion) and Eater (food). The company
recently hired Ezra Klein to create Vox, a generalinterest news site.

Yahoo is expanding its journalistic capacity by making
big hires. It released a smartphone app called Yahoo
News Digest that updates twice daily with the top eight
news stories from around the web.


Executive Summary | Competitive Landscape

Live blogging
Visual story treatments
Highly engaged community

Raised $40M round in 2013
$200M valuation
SB Nation has 40M unique

High-profile journalism hires
Huge traffic to news content
Newly released Digest app

65M unique U.S. visitors,
180M globally
$1.5B in total revenue,
$360M in advertising

Chapter 1

Our Audience

Innovation  March 24, 2014


Growing Our Audience |

Long ago, we decided to go to extraordinary lengths
to get our journalism into the hands of as many
readers as possible.
Each night, we printed our best work. Then we
loaded it onto trucks to drive it to cities and towns.
Then we enlisted kids to bike from house to house
to deliver our papers to readers’ doorsteps. For nonsubscribers, we dropped off bundles of papers at
corner stores and newspaper racks, and painstakingly tracked sales to see where more copies were
We take this work for granted now, but our home
delivery and single-sales efforts represented one of
the most sophisticated consumer-outreach operations in history. But when the time came to put our
journalism on the web, we adopted a much more
passive approach. We published stories on our home
page and assumed that most people would come to
The realities of a cluttered Internet and distracted
mobile world now require us to make even more of
an effort to get our journalism to readers. Perhaps
because the path forward is not clear and requires
very different skills, we are putting less effort into
reaching readers’ digital doorsteps than we ever did
in reaching their physical doorsteps.
This effort to reach more readers — known as Audience Development — is where our competitors are
pushing ahead of us.
Audience Development is the work of expanding
our loyal and engaged audience. It is about getting
more people to read more of our journalism. The
work can be broken down into steps like discovery
(how we package and distribute our journalism),
promotion (how we call attention to our journalism)
and connection (how we create a two-way relationship with readers that deepens their loyalty).
Audience Development needs to be a goal for the
whole company. But the newsroom, in particular,
must seize a leadership position.
At our new and traditional competitors, Audience
Development is seen not just as the responsibility

of the newsroom but as the responsibility of every
editor and reporter. They adopt this approach because the work happens story by story and platform
by platform, requiring creativity and editorial judgment. These efforts can be compared to using an engaging lede, compelling headline, or gripping photo

Some key measures of traffic and engagement point to an
inescapable truth: The Times needs to work harder to reach and
hold onto readers.
Home Page Visitors:





Page Views:


MAY 2012

JAN 2013

Time Spent:

MAY 2013

MAY 2012

JAN 2013

iPhone App Active Users:

MAY 2013

JAN 2013

JAN 2014


to draw readers into a story.
“The hardest part for me has been the realization
that you don’t automatically get an audience,” said
Janine Gibson, editor-in-chief of The Guardian’s
website. “For someone with a print background,
you’re accustomed to the fact that if it makes the editor’s cut ­ gets into the paper — you’re going to find

an audience. It’s entirely the other way around as a
digital journalist. The realization that you have to go
find your audience ­ they’re not going to just come

and read it — has been transformative.”
The need is urgent. Our home page has been our
main tool for getting our journalism to readers,
but its impact is waning. Only a third of our readers ever visit it. And those who do visit are spending
less time: page views and minutes spent per reader
dropped by double-digit percentages last year.
Readers are finding and engaging with our journalism in vastly different ways. More readers expect us to find them on Twitter and Facebook, and
through email and phone alerts. But the newsroom
pays less attention to these platforms, even though
they offer our main, and sometimes only, channels
The Times has worked hard since its earliest days to turn
occasional readers into loyal subscribers.


Growing Our Audience |

to tens of millions of readers. Here, too, we are lagging our competitors.
Because we are journalists, we tend to look at our
competitors through the lens of content rather than
strategy. But BuzzFeed, Huffington Post and USA
Today are not succeeding simply because of lists,
quizzes, celebrity photos and sports coverage. They
are succeeding because of their sophisticated social,
search and community-building tools and strategies, and often in spite of their content.
“At The New York Times, far too often for writers
and editors the story is done when you hit publish,”
said Paul Berry, who helped found The Huffington
Post. “At Huffington Post, the article begins its life
when you hit publish.”
The Guardian is just one example of a traditional
competitor that has adopted digital best practices in
Audience Development to drive rapid growth, allowing it to close in on our position as the world’s bestread quality newspaper. USA Today has put such
practices at the heart of its reorganization. And The
Wall Street Journal recently created a new “audience-engagement team,” bringing social editors and

data scientists together in the newsroom.
“I tell most reporters, ‘Three percent of the people
who want to see your work are seeing it,’” said a top
editor at The Washington Post. “So if we can get that
to even 4.5 percent, it’s worth the effort, it’s worth
the struggle.”
But at The Times, discovery, promotion and engagement have been pushed to the margins, typically left to our business-side colleagues or handed to
small teams in the newsroom. The business side still
has a major role to play, but the newsroom needs to
claim its seat at the table because packaging, promoting and sharing our journalism requires editorial oversight.
This effort needs to be unified under a single leader. We recommend hiring a head of Audience Development who works in the newsroom and collaborates with a counterpart on the business side.
Indeed, in recent months, the most qualified candidate for such a position on the business side, Michael Wertheim, the former head of promotion for
Upworthy, turned down the job. He explained that
for anyone in that role to succeed, the newsroom

needed to be fully committed to working with the
business side to grow our audience.
Audience Development is not a task we should
view as a chore – the opportunities are truly exciting. Imagine coming back from an unplugged vacation and having the best pieces you missed waiting
for you. Or strolling through Rome and having an
article on the best museums pop up on your phone.
Or watching a year-old story go viral on social. Or
having Science Times become a lively platform for
expert debate.
There is no single solution like home delivery that
will solve the challenges of digital distribution. But
our competitors have been experimenting aggressively, and some best practices have emerged that
we will share in the following pages. We should
track them closely, and adopt those that meet our
standards. And we should unleash the creativity of
our staff by experimenting quickly and constantly to
discover next-generation solutions.
“If The New York Times could get this right —
could reach the right audiences for all its content —
it would change the world,” said Wertheim.

What Are We Trying to Do?
There are many good ideas for
innovation in the newsroom,
but we focused on those that
will help us find more readers
for more of our journalism.

The main newsroom strategy
for attracting more readers
is to produce excellent

In this report, we explored
additional ideas to attract
new readers and deepen
our connection with loyal










Our Proposals, In Brief
We recognize that “audience development” can easily be dismissed as one of those “sounds-good-intheory” notions. So we’ve packed a lot into the following pages to show how it works in practice. We’ll
provide the context for why these strategies deserve
our attention, explain our current approach, assess
the competitive landscape and address concerns.
We’ll also offer a few key recommendations and a
proposed experiment for each area. However, the
details of any specific suggestion matter less than
the underlying questions. Our goal is to start a discussion.
Our readers’ habits are changing faster than ever. How can we
make sure our news is reaching them in the digital age?

Improving technology provides us with more and
better tools to ensure that we get our work in front
of the right readers at the right place and at the right
time. But we still ask too much of readers — they
must navigate a website and apps that are modeled
on our print structure. We need to think more about
resurfacing evergreen content, organizing and packaging our work in more useful ways and pushing relevant content to readers. And to power these efforts,
we should invest more in the unglamorous but essential work of tagging and structuring data.

We need to be better advocates of our own work. This
means creating newsroom structures to make sure
our most important work has maximum readership
and impact. And it means identifying and sharing
best practices at the ground level, and encouraging
reporters and editors to promote their stories. In
addition, we must take the process of optimization,
for search and social, more seriously and ensure we
are updating our tools and workflow along with our
changing needs.

Our readers are perhaps our greatest untapped resource. Deepening our connection with them both
online and offline is critical in a world where content
so often reaches its broadest audience on the backs
of other readers. And many readers have come to
expect a two-way relationship with us, so they can
engage with our journalism and our journalists. This
means the newsroom as a whole must take the reins
in pursuing user-generated content, events and
other forms of engagement in a way that reflects our
standards and values.


Growing Our Audience |



The Times produces more than 300 URLs every day.
Because of this bounty, readers easily miss stories
and features. This has long been true for readers
who come to our home page, because of limited real
estate and constantly shifting presentation. This is
also true on our mobile apps, where a tiny screen
makes it even harder to sift through our offerings.
The readers who don’t come to us at all — and instead expect us to reach them through social media
and our alerts — have even less of an appreciation
of the richness of our work.
A more reader-centric approach to packaging and
surfacing our journalism offers us a huge opportunity to extend our reach. Exploiting better web and
mobile tools will also help us get each story to every
reader who might want to see it.
We need to make better use of these tools and
tactics because the current structures for organizing our digital journalism, many of which are based
on the traditions and limitations of print, are losing
potency. Traffic to the home page has been declining, month after month, for years. Traffic to section fronts is negligible. Traffic on our mobile apps,
which are mostly downstream replicas of our home
page and section fronts, has declined as well.
One great example of the power of a new tool for

connecting with readers is our news alert system,
which now reaches as many as 13.5 million people,
about a dozen times our print subscriber base.
Here are four opportunities for getting more readers for the work we’re already producing, with a
proposed experiment for each idea to make it more
It’s not just The Times. The entire digital media industry is seeing
a big shift in behavior. Reader visits to home pages are declining
while traffic from social media is rising. (­ ource: BuzzFeed)
Home Page

Social Referrals

% of Visitors

JAN 2013

DEC 2013


Total Internet traffic by type of site.
News Sites (1.5%)



On Oscar night, The Times tweeted a 161-year-old
story about Solomon Northup, whose memoir was
the basis for “12 Years a Slave.” After it started going
viral on social media, Gawker pounced, and quickly
fashioned a story based on excerpts from our piece.
It ended up being one of their best-read items of the
year. But little of that traffic came to us.
In a digital world, our rich archive offers one of
our clearest advantages over new competitors. As of
the printing of this report, we have 14,723,933 articles, dating back to 1851, that can be resurfaced in
useful or timely ways. But we rarely think to mine
our archive, largely because we are so focused on
news and new features.
“You have a huge advantage,” said Henry Blodget,
the founder of Business Insider. “You have a tremendous amount of high-quality content that you
have a perpetual license to.”
The Cooking team is providing a fresh reminder
of our treasure trove of evergreen content. For decades, we published and promoted a handful of new

When this 161-year-old Times story started
going viral on Oscar night, Gawker did what
Gawker does —it repackaged our content and
won huge traffic gains.


Growing Our Audience | Discovery

recipes each week. The new Cooking product better
reflects the fact that recipes are timeless and best organized in other ways: by meal, ingredients, season
and our critics’ favorites.
The opportunities are not limited to service journalism. We can be both a daily newsletter and a library — offering news every day, as well as providing
context, relevance and timeless works of journalism.
In breaking news and long-running stories, readers can struggle to quickly get up to speed or to understand why something matters. Many of our competitors are tackling this challenge, just as we did
with Times Topics.
“Journalists are better than ever at telling people
what’s happening, but not nearly good enough at
giving them the crucial contextual information necessary to understand what’s happened,” said Ezra
Klein, in announcing his new venture at Vox Media.
“We treat the emphasis on the newness of information as an important virtue rather than a painful

Culture Guides
Our committee ran a study of article readership
during the last six months of 2013. Arts and culture
stories were among those that were consistently
read long after their publication dates, even though
they can be difficult to find once they are more than
a few days old.
A new approach would be to take cultural and lifestyle content — about books, museums, food, theater — and organize it more by relevance than by
publication date.
Erik Piepenburg, the web producer for theater,
noted that visitors coming to us for the “Wicked”
theater review can’t easily find it because we reviewed it a long time ago. But that review is still relevant to the many readers who are considering buying tickets this week.

One possible solution, envisioned by Ben Koski
and Erik Hinton of our Interactive News team, is to
add landing pages for our cultural content that are
more like guides.
These pages would supplement, not replace, our
existing arts pages. Optimized for search and social,
these guides would serve the reader who wants to
use us as a more timeless resource.
The best opportunities are in areas where The
Times has comprehensive coverage, where information doesn’t need to be updated regularly, and where
competitors haven’t saturated the market. For now,
museums, books and theater fit that description.
Travel and music would present significantly more
“So far, there’s been much enthusiasm from the
desks,” said Koski. “But getting these on the official
agenda to be built and made real is an ongoing challenge. It’s hard for ideas like these to compete with
enterprise, major events and story work.”



Traffic on most of our stories
falls dramatically after the first
day they’re published.












But enterprise and feature
stories can have long lives.
For example, Libby Rosenthal’s
colonoscopy story from last
year, below, attracted new
readers months after it was













The Times dominates
coverage of books, museums
and theater. And the evergreen
nature of those subjects
makes them a natural for
being repackaged as culture
guides. Here are two proposals
from the Interactive News


Growing Our Audience | Discovery

Best Practices In Experimenting
If you were to ask most people in the newsroom
about how The New York Times experiments, they
might talk about a new story format like “Snowfall”
or a recent crowdsourcing effort like “Paying Till It
Hurts.” But “experimentation” is about much more
than simply trying something new.
Real experimentation is about adopting a rigorous, scientific method for proving new concepts and
constantly tweaking them to be as successful as possible. This is how every major digital innovator — including Google and Amazon — works today.

Unlike a printed newspaper (which is polished to
near-perfection and “launched” once a day), a digital
experiment should be released quickly and refined
through a cycle of continuous improvement ­ mea—
suring performance, studying results, shuttering
losers and building on winners. The Verge, for example, redesigned its home page 53 times in two
years. We must push back against our perfectionist
impulses. Though our journalism always needs to
be polished, our other efforts can have some rough
edges as we look for new ways to reach our readers.

NYT Now: Our first experiment in packaging news
specifically for a mobile audience.
NY Today: An ongoing experiment to assess readers’ appetite for tip sheets.
Cooking: An experiment to build a world-class
service-journalism app, leveraging the archive.
Watching: An experiment in curating a news feed
on our homepage.
NYT Now & Watching.


Launch efforts quickly, then iterate. We often
hold back stories for publication, as we should,
because they’re “not quite there yet.” Outside our
journalism, though, we can adopt the “minimal
viable product” model, which calls for launching
something in a more basic form so that we can
start getting feedback from users and improve it
over time.
Set goals and track progress. Every new project
should be launched with a specific goal and metric for success. In many cases, our main goal is
high-quality journalism. But readership and engagement are usually important, too. All managers should be clear on what a new initiative is
aiming to accomplish. Editors in charge of experiments should track their progress in real time.
Reward experimentation. Currently, the risk of
failing greatly outweighs the reward of succeeding at The Times. We must reward people who
show initiative, even when their experiments fail.
Share lessons from both successes and failures.
We need to do a better job of communicating our
digital goals, and sharing what we know about
best practices to achieve them. No project should
be declared a success, or shuttered, without a debrief on what we’ve learned, so that we can apply
those insights more broadly.

Kill off mediocre efforts. To free up resources for
new initiatives, we need to be quicker and smarter about pulling resources from efforts that aren’t
working. And we must do it in a way that is transparent so that people understand the reasons behind the decision, so that they will be willing to
experiment again.
Plan for “version 2.0” and beyond. Often, the resource plan for new projects stops at launch. As
we learn from readers about what is working and
not working, we have to continue our efforts to
refine and develop our new initiatives.
Make it easier to launch an experiment than to
block one. At many companies, people are able
to test ideas on a small percentage of users with
mid-level approval. Elsewhere, you must write a
memo about why an experiment should not happen in order to block it. Our journalistic standards always need to be protected, but tradition
alone shouldn’t be a justification for blocking experiments.

Earlier this year, the newsroom analytics team conducted an
“A/B Test” on a science article, showing different headlines
and photos to readers. Of the options below, number three
performed best. More important, it showed that this kind
of test is possible — and that The Times should use it as
another tool to drive traffic to our journalism.






The Color Of Pressure

The Color Of Pressure

The Big Squeeze

The Big Squeeze

Growing Our Audience | Discovery

Readers who visit our site for the first time naturally might assume that if they click on “New York,”
they’re likely to find restaurant reviews, theater reviews, local sports coverage, museum coverage or
real estate coverage. That assumption would be
wrong, of course.
This is but one example of the many opportunities we have for repackaging our content so that it’s
more useful, relevant and shareable for readers.
We can point to successes already. On a whim,

Andrew Phelps created a Flipboard magazine of our
most important obits of the year and it became the
best-read collection in the history of the platform.
Other colleagues have tackled similar projects to repackage our work. But because our systems are difficult for them experiment on, they usually turn to
Flipboard, Pinterest and other sites.
“It’s crazy that we’re doing this on a third-party
platform and letting them reap many of the benefits,” said a senior digital editor.

Millions of people flipped through this collection of New York
Times obits, developed on a whim by Andrew Phelps.

Flipboard has created a tool that lets readers make collections
with content on their app, including stories from The Times.


Our committee ran a couple of experiments with
repackaging and found that even old content can
generate significant traffic without ever appearing
on the home page.
The first was a page featuring a collection of nine
videos related to love, chosen from our archives by
the weddings editor, for Valentine’s Day. The second was a collection of Nick Kristof articles and columns from the archives about sex trafficking. We
created no new articles, only new packaging. We
explicitly requested that they be kept off the home
page and then we launched a strategic campaign to
promote the pages elsewhere. The result? Both were
huge hits, exclusively because our readers shared
them on social. The video unit, eager to repeat those
wins, is already pushing to create a template.
Sasha Koren, our social and community editor,
said these collections forced a change in thinking
about what’s new. “Maybe it’s, ‘what’s new to someone now,’” Koren said. “It’s still timely, it’s still relevant to this moment, it’s not dated.”
Collections would allow us to curate or automatically group our content in many different ways: by
section, topic, byline, etc. They can be used to put
a new frame around old content and connect the
dots between pieces written over time in a way that
day-to-day coverage typically does not.
A Collections format is being developed by
Product and Design to improve our ability to organize content in ways that are more intuitive and
useful. The newsroom should support that work and
consider creating a tool for reporters, web producers, video journalists and editors — and eventually
readers — to create collections and repackage our
content in ways beyond the usual news format.
For example, we could package stories about
Putin’s tightening grip on Russia, or the best roundup of climate-science explainers, or service pieces
about the science of sleep, or all the four-star restaurant reviews from the last year. Currently, these


Growing Our Audience | Discovery

types of collections are created almost exclusively
off-site, on Flipboard.
The key to making Collections scalable is for the
newsroom to introduce a widget-like tool that any
reporter or editor could use to drag and drop stories
and photos. (The R&D department and, more recently, New Products have already built such tools.)
Because Collections are created with content that
has already been vetted and published, they require
few resources and limited oversight.
If our Collection tool were intuitive and easy to
use, we could encourage readers to drag and drop
a group of stories into their own collections, which
they could then share. This is an opportunity to empower readers to make something on our site with
less risk to our brand.
For Valentine’s Day, we worked with our weddings editor and other
colleagues around the building to repackage nine videos from our
archives. The result: a big hit with readers.

New Again (And Popular)
The “Inside the Brothels” collection that we developed with Nick Kristof’s help provides a case study
in how, without too much effort, we can repackage
material in our archives and make it relevant again.
Until we published “Inside the Brothels,” the
seven stories in the collection had not drawn any
traffic in years. But, as the chart at bottom left
shows, all the stories saw a spike in visits after being repackaged, with several getting more traffic
than a typical new story on the day it’s published.
“Inside the Brothels” rose to the No. 8 mostviewed article on launch day, and it sustained
its traffic several days longer than typical daily
stories. Over six days, the traffic to the collection
page and the associated articles totaled 468,106
page views. Very few articles from a typical day’s
paper will garner this much traffic in a month.
Articles in the “Inside the Brothels” collection
were among those that readers spent the most
time with that day. The 1996 Kristof article in our
collection was third on this list, with the average
user spending 2 minutes, 35 seconds.
“Recirculation” refers to a story’s effectiveness
in driving readers to other stories, as opposed to
their leaving the site. On launch day, “Inside the
Brothels” ranked No. 1 on the recirculation list.
Pub Date


Page Views

APR 14, 1996

Children For Sale

JAN 21, 2004

Bargaining For Freedom

MAR 26, 2006

A Woman Without [...]

APR 22, 2007

The 21st Century Slave [...]

NOV 18, 2010

A Woman. A Prostitute. [...]

MAR 31, 2012

Sex Trafficking Comes [...]

OCT 12, 2013

From the Brothels [...]


Collection Page

Evergreen content is appealing to readers if
resurfaced in a way that is smart.
Such work can find a large audience without
home page attention.
The newsroom can fall into old habits about experiments like this one, raising concerns about
turf, quality control and precedents.
One-offs are laborious, so we should focus on
making such efforts replicable and scalable.


Balancing Act: One-offs vs. Replicability
The surprising popularity of The Times dialect quiz
— the most popular piece of content in the paper’s
history, with more than 21 million page views —
prompted weeks of internal discussions about ways
to build on that remarkable success.
But over at BuzzFeed, they were busy perfecting
a template so they could pump out quiz after quiz
after quiz. “We wanted to have interactive games,”
explained one BuzzFeed editor, “but not have the
developers build them every time, so that we could
experiment freely.”
This contrast helps illustrate one of the biggest
obstacles to our digital success. We
have a tendency to pour resources
into big one-time projects and work
through the one-time fixes needed
to create them, and overlook the less
glamorous work of creating tools,
templates and permanent fixes that
cumulatively can have a bigger impact by saving our digital journalists
time and elevating the whole report. We greatly undervalue replicability.
Driven in part by the success of Snowfall, we have
gone to extraordinary lengths in recent years to support huge single-story efforts. The ambitions of such
projects are central to our brand. But Graphics, Interactive, Design and Social are spending a disproportionate amount of time on these labor-intensive
one-offs. Meanwhile, we have repeatedly put off
making the necessary improvements to allow our
graphics to appear on mobile.
That runs counter to the approach at so many of
our digital competitors. “We are focused on building tools to create Snowfalls everyday, and getting
them as close to reporters as possible,” said Kevin
Delaney, editor of Quartz, which is known for innovative storytelling formats. “I’d rather have a Snowfall builder than a Snowfall.”
When we have created tools, the benefits are

clear. For example, the slideshow tool has become
one of our most popular features, the dashboard system has elevated our ability to respond to breaking
news, and our blog platforms helped train an entire
generation of Times reporters and editors to write
for the web. “It’s actually been a long time since we
had platform innovation on that scale,” said Nathan
Several digital leaders in the newsroom said they
believe we need to reprioritize the kind of incremental improvements that can elevate the whole report
and allow our journalists to, for example, build their
own collections from our archives.
“We’ve reached a point now where
platform innovation is a requirement,” said one editor.
We also need to prioritize sustainable solutions over time-consuming
hacks, short-term fixes and workarounds to problems that emerge
repeatedly, sometimes daily. For
example, platform editors spend hours on Sunday
mornings trying to fix stories that don’t work on
mobile devices. They know the problems that will
emerge but are unable to get the Technology resources to fix them. Since the newsroom does not
control those resources, it is very difficult to prioritize even small changes that cause trouble day after
Our competitors, particularly digital-native ones,
treat platform innovation as a core function. Vox
and First Look Media have lured talent with the
pitch that they have built the tools and templates
to elevate journalists. That was the advantage that
BuzzFeed C.E.O. Jonah Peretti cited in a recent
company memo, saying that the company had spent
years investing in formats, analytics, optimization
and testing frameworks. “This is a massive investment that is very difficult to replicate,” he said.

Tools, templates
and permanent
fixes can elevate
the whole report.


Growing Our Audience | Discovery


We already personalize our content for individual
readers in subtle ways: a front-page story about
New York may be substituted for a National story,
the global home page curates our news report with
an international sensibility, and the iPad app grays
out the stories you’ve already read.
Embracing personalization does not mean flipping a switch that gives different stories to every
person. Nor should it. Research shows that readers
come to us in part to find out what we consider the
top stories of the day.
But personalization offers countless opportunities
to surface content in smarter ways. It means using
technology to ensure that the right stories are finding the right readers in the right places at the right
For example, letting you know when you’re walking by a restaurant we just reviewed; knowing that
you prefer to get stories by email; and making sure
you never miss a story about your alma mater.
Even with the home page there is an opportunity
for a measured approach — in effect, serve everyone
the same dinner but at least give them their favorite
desserts. For basketball fans who never read about
baseball, that means showing them the story about
the Knicks game rather than the Yankees game (unless the baseball story has been flagged as important, such as a story on a perfect game).
Readers have come to expect this personalization.
Facebook’s new Paper app, for example, is built on
news feeds tailored to each user. Yahoo has recently
used personalization technology to drive growth in
news readership.
Other media sites, like BuzzFeed and The Wash-

ington Post, alter what readers see based on how
they arrive on their sites. For example, they will look
at data in real time to track which stories are drawing readers from Twitter, and then they show those
same stories to other people who visit from Twitter.
This practice tends to keep them reading more stories.
In the absence of newsroom input, the business
side has been leading our approach to personalization.
Currently, our main tool for personalizing content
is our “Recommended For You” tab, which is not
up to our standards and has provoked many reader
complaints. The list occupies a prominent spot on
our homepage but the newsroom has not been very
involved in discussions. As a result, the formula
we use offers content that would otherwise be hidden on the site — but it often shows smaller-bore
items. “It’s possible we’re using the entirely wrong
algorithm,” said Boris Chen, a data scientist on The
Times’s personalization team. But editors, he said,
must help him understand what is wrong so he can
create a better alternative.
Another significant tool for personalization — a
section of the home page for content that readers
missed but would likely want to see, based on their
reading patterns — is being planned by Design for
NYT5 and the iPhone app.
The newsroom should consider devoting more attention to these new initiatives. And the newsroom
should clarify how much personalization we want
on our home page and on our apps. Until then, the
uncertainty about what is acceptable will limit our
creativity and initiative on this front.


Readers have come to
expect smart personalization
online. But our current
recommendation engine, right,
uses an algorithm to serve
up content that leaves many
readers puzzled about our
judgment. “Based on what
The New York Times thinks
I’m interested in, I am not a
fun person,” wrote Margaret
Sullivan, our public editor.
The Times is planning to
add other features that help
personalize the reading
experience in more subtle
ways. One example, below,
which we’ve illustrated with
the help of a gray box, would
show individual readers the
stories they missed on the
home page since their last
visit. Though all readers would
see the same top news stories,
the other articles we show
them would be customized to
reflect what they haven’t seen.


Growing Our Audience | Discovery

We’ve heard time and again that younger readers
are moving away from browsing and that they increasingly expect news to come to them, on social,
through alerts and through personalization. There
is a sense that “if something is important, it will find
me.” We are far behind in adjusting to these trends.
We could create a “follow” button that offers readers a variety of ways to curate and receive their own
news feeds, ensuring they never miss a Modern Love
or Maureen Dowd column. With a single click, their
favorite topics, features and writers could automatically be collected in a Following Inbox. We could
also offer readers the opportunity to have alerts
about new stories sent to their phone or email.
We’ve always had a sense that
readers were loyal followers
of their favorite columnists.
And the paper makes it easy
to catch certain bylines
(Monday morning? Time for
David Carr). On the Internet,
however, readers are far more
fickle. The accompanying
charts show that readers don’t
come back often to the same
columnist. The quality of their
work isn’t the issue. Making it
easier for readers to discover
what they already like – by
creating a “follow” feature for
each columnist, for example –
could make these charts look
very different.

increasingly Circa, Breaking News, The Verge and
other digital outlets are doing this with news. The
Design and Product teams have been exploring such
a feature for columnists, and should have the newsroom’s support.

*This data is based on registered users and subscribers

Paul Krugman
Gail Collins
Maureen Dowd
David Brooks
Joe Nocera
Bill Keller




Until the feature was recently discontinued as part
of the NYT5 redesign, the only way for Times readers to be notified of new favorites was by email. This
feature was hard to find, hidden at the bottom of
stories below the comment section, and required
readers to plow through multiple sign-up pages.
Even so, it had 338,000 users and unusually high
engagement rates. Some technically savvy readers
are so eager not to miss stories that they have even
written code so that certain stories are sent to them
Such “following” features have been critical to
the success of YouTube, Spotify and Twitter. But






A.O. Scott
Melissa Clark
David Carr
Floyd Norris
Holland Cotter
Ginia Bellafante







These are some examples of features we could add to our mobile
app to help readers follow their favorite topics, bylines and stories.




Will Handshake
With Castro Lead to
Headache for Obama?

You’ve read 4 Melissa Clark Articles
this month. Tap to Follow her.
Early results for large-scale
e-learning courses are disappointing, forcing a rethinking of
how college instruction can best


President Obama’s gesture
to Raúl Castro of Cuba at the
memorial for Nelson Mandela
instantly raised questions about
its deeper meaning.


The Student Does the
Master Proud
Restaurant Review: Sushi Nakazawa in the West Village

A Neighborhood’s
Profound Divide


The Great and The
Humble Honor Mandela

Dasani, one of New York’s 22,000 homeless children, lives on the margins of a gentrified city.

Nelson Mandela’s memorial
service in Soweto, South Africa, drew a remarkable crowd
of global V.I.P.’s, including
President Obama and at least
91 other heads of state and



Rise of Young Leaders Signals a
Mandate for Political Change in Italy
The Italian Parliament has been deadlocked on
major changes for years, unable or unwilling to
enact bills to overhaul the political system or
unshackle the economy, which has barely grown in
two decades.


BREAKING: Metro North Train
Crashes in the Bronx.


Roasted Apple and
Blue Cheese Tart
Melissa Clark serves a sophisticated roasted
apple, shallot and blue cheese tart at her holiday
cocktail party.

and 60 wounded. At least 6 others
in critical condition.


The NYTimes will keep covering the
Metro North Crash over the next few
hours as the news unfolds.


A news alert arrives for
breaking news.


Growing Our Audience | Discovery

Tapping on the alert brings the
reader to a developing story.

At the end of the article, the
reader is prompted with the
option of following the story.

The reader is notified of new

“The Paper of Record,” Version 2.0
A century ago, The Times began the laborious process of identifying and tagging the major and minor topics and characters of every story it produced.
Each year, it compiled these listings in the massive
“New York Times Index,” the only complete index
of a U.S. newspaper. This effort made us indispensable to librarians, historians and academics. And it
earned us a nickname: “The Paper of Record.”
The many opportunities described in this report
— and others that will only become clear over time
— require us to focus on this humble art we helped
pioneer, which we still call “tagging.”
In the digital world, tagging is a
type of structured data — the information that allows things to
be searched and sorted and made
useful for analysis and innovation. Some of the most successful Internet companies, including
Netflix, Facebook and Pandora,
have so much structured data — by
tagging dozens or even hundreds of different elements of every movie, song and article — that they
have turned the science of surfacing the right piece
of content at the right time into the core of thriving
The Times, however, hasn’t updated its structured
data to meet the changing demands of our digital
age and is falling far behind as a result. Without
better tagging, we are hamstrung in our ability to
allow readers to follow developing stories, discover
nearby restaurants that we have reviewed or even
have our photos show up on search engines.
“Everyone forgets about metadata,” said John
O’Donovan, the chief technology officer for The
Financial Times. “They think they can just make
stuff and then forget about how it is organized in
terms of how you describe your content. But all your
assets are useless to you unless you have metadata
— your archive is full of stuff that is of no value
because you can’t find it and don’t know what it’s

And here is an ugly truth about structured data:
there are substantial costs to waiting.
For example, because our recipes were never
properly tagged by ingredients and cooking time,
we floundered about for 15 years trying to figure out
how to create a useful recipe database. We can do
it now, but only after spending a huge sum to retroactively structure the data. The lack of structured
data also helps explain why we are unable to automate the sale of our photos and why we continually
struggle to attain higher rankings on search engines.
We need to reclaim our industryleading position, but right now our
needs are far more basic. We must
expand the structured data we create, which is still defined by the
needs of the Times Index rather
than our modern digital capabilities.
For example, at a time when
nearly 60 percent of our readers access us via mobile devices, we are missing an opportunity to serve
up content that’s relevant to their locations because
we are not tagging stories with geographic coordinates. The Boston Globe is among the many publications doing this.
Similarly, to enable readers to follow updates
on running news stories, we need to be using tags
that tie together articles, photos, and videos about
a news event, like “Boston Marathon Bombing.”
It took seven years for us to start tagging stories
“September 11.”
“We never made a tag for Benghazi, and I wish
we had because the story just won’t die,” said Kristi
Reilly of our Archive, Metadata and Search team.
Her boss, Evan Sandhaus, framed the opportunity
more strongly: “We don’t tag the one thing” — news
events — “that people use to navigate the news.”
Our competitors are a full step ahead of us in using structured data. The Washington Post and The

The structured
data we create is
still defined by
the Times Index.


Wall Street Journal use it for insight into how readers are using their websites. At Circa, each article is
broken into “atoms of news,” such as facts, quotes,
and statistics. That allows editors to quickly surface
relevant content and context during breaking news.
Expanding our structured data capabilities would
require us to address some technology and workflow issues. Notably, it would put greater demands
on our copy editors, web producers and librarians.

That means we may need to build out those teams,
and we will certainly need to go to great lengths to
explain how crucial this effort is to our long-term
Every day we wait, we fall further behind our
competitors. The Times considered increasing its
tagging efforts in 2010 and passed. The cost of
catching up has only grown.

Here are some examples of structured data that would
allow us to make better use of our content:



Geographic location of
story content

Gramercy Restaurant
40.7386° N, 73.9885° W

Surface new and old content relevant to readers’ locations,
particularly for mobile usage.


Timely forever
Timely for a year
Timely for a month
Timely for a day

Surface old content in a smart way, including adding
sophistication to our recommendation engines and easier
ways for editors to feature relevant older stories.

Story type

Breaking news
News analysis

Make better use of evergreen content well after publication.
Conduct more granular analysis of users’ reading behavior.

Story threads

Crisis in

Enable readers to follow ongoing stories and news events.
Better organize our archives.

Story tone


Improve content discovery by letting users surface stories
based on their mood.

Photos: topics

Viktor Yanukovych

Display photos in search results on our site and our apps.
Tagging photos by topic would improve the ranking of our
content in search results.

Photos: articles where
photo appeared

“A Kiev Question: What
Became of the Missing?”

Create a ‘news in photos’ experience that lets users start
with a photo and click through to a related article.

Photos: usage rights



Rights cleared
No resale rights

Sell prints of all rights-cleared photos on our site.

Growing Our Audience | Discovery


At The Times, we generally like to let our work
speak for itself. We’re not ones to brag.
Our competitors have no such qualms, and many
are doing a better job of getting their journalism in
front of new readers through aggressive story promotion. They regard this as a core function of reporters and editors, and they react with amazement
that the same is not true here.
“A lot of the institutions that are doing well are
marketing themselves well,” said Amanda Michel,
head of social media for The Guardian. “People may
think that’s dirty, but it’s reality.”
The Guardian has a promotion team inside the
newsroom and an ambitious social strategy that has
helped rapidly expand its readership in the United
States. The Huffington Post expects all reporters
and editors to be fully fluent in social media, including the kinds of headlines and photos that tend to
perform best on different platforms. The Atlantic
and its digital properties expect reporters to promote their own work and mine traffic numbers to
look for best practices.
Even ProPublica, that bastion of old-school journalism values, goes to extraordinary lengths to give
stories a boost. An editor meets with search, social
and public relations specialists to develop a promotion strategy for every story. And reporters must
submit five tweets along with each story they file.
By contrast, our approach is muted. After we
spent more than a year producing a signature piece
of journalism — the “Invisible Child” series — we
alerted our marketing and PR colleagues too late
for them to do any promotion ahead of time. The

reporter didn’t tweet about it for two days. (Though
the pieces still had massive reach and impact, we
don’t know how many more readers we could have
attracted with additional effort.)
“I don’t feel like we sit down when we have a big
project, a big story, and say, ‘How do we roll this
out?’” said one top editor. “It would require an entirely different way of thinking. It would be about
saying, ‘This is what is running on Sunday.’”
A key tool is social media. Our institutional accounts reach tens of millions of people and the accounts of individual reporters and editors reach millions more. The size of our social team reflects our
eagerness to succeed in this arena. But with less
than 10 percent of our digital traffic coming to us
through social media we are still figuring out how
to best engage readers.
The percentage of readers who visit BuzzFeed
through social, for example, is more than six times
greater than at The Times. They have learned,
among other things, that a great Facebook post has
become a better promotional device than a headline and that the impact of social is even greater
on mobile.
Many outlets place a team in the newsroom to
track the most popular stories in real time. As those
stories spike, the team helps desks take steps to
draw more traffic and to keep visitors on the site
longer. Other sites also look for unexpectedly poor
performers and repackage them to give them a lift.
Reuters, for instance, recently hired two employees
to scour the site to find up to seven hidden gems
per day, which they then repackage and republish


to give them a second chance.
We need to create structures inside the newsroom
that broaden the reach and impact of our most important work. In addition, we need to identify and
share best practices at the ground level so that reporters and editors feel encouraged and empowered
to promote their own work.
And we need to focus more attention on the behind-the-scenes process of optimization. Just adding structured data, for example, immediately increased traffic to our recipes from search engines
by 52 percent.
Companies like Huffington Post and BuzzFeed
have, in just a few years, eclipsed our traffic by
building best practices for search and social into
their workflow. For example, at The Huffington
Post, a story cannot be published unless it has a
photo, a search headline, a tweet and a Facebook

Now The Huffington Post regularly outperforms
us in these areas — sometimes even with our own
content. An executive there described watching their
aggregation outperform our original content after
Nelson Mandela’s death. “You guys got crushed,”
he said. “I was queasy watching the numbers. I’m
not proud of this. But this is your competition. You
should defend the digital pick-pockets from stealing your stuff with better headlines, better social.”
Other competitors, like The Atlantic and Politico,
are also using emails as direct channels to readers.
This basic tool has become one of the most popular
and efficient ways to cut through all the noise of the
social web and reach readers directly. The Times is
reaching 6.5 million readers by email, even though
this tool has largely been treated as an afterthought.

Promotion doesn’t just mean
using social media sites like
Twitter and Facebook. Email
and search are also powerful
drivers of traffic. Another
is optimization, the use of
specialized tools and tactics to
draw readers and keep them
reading. At competitors, this
is done story by story and
platform by platform, before
and after publication. The
dialect quiz had 21 million
visits and still gets around
10,000 per day. But the simply
designed page did little to
keep visitors on our site. Here
are some features that we
could have added to help the
quiz drive more traffic to other
parts of the site.

Add a link to
NYT home page.

Add a related article.

Add a form where
readers can sign up to
receive notices about
future quizzes.
Sign up for emails to future New
York Times quizzes.


Ask a question of the
professors behind the quiz,
Bert Vaux and Scott Golder.

Add a Q&A.

Add a link to a social site that
is driving heavy traffic to this


Growing Our Audience | Promotion

Institutional Promotion
Our Twitter account is run by the newsroom. Our
Facebook account is run by the business side.
This unwieldy structure highlights a problem that
has bedeviled our promotion efforts. Even though
audience development is the kind of work that
should be shared across the company, it instead
falls into silos, with marketing, public relations,
search, and social all answering to different bosses
and rarely collaborating.
These departments should work together on promotion strategies, such as publicizing big stories
before and after they are published. We also need
to change our tools and workflows to optimize our
content for search and social, and exploit other direct channels to readers, such as email.
There is a widely held assumption in the newsroom that promotion is mostly done by the social
team. But the team has framed its mission mostly around using social media as a reporting tool,

rather than as a tool for audience development. This
approach was an important first step to help the
newsroom start exploring social media. But today it
means that we are mostly leaving the larger promotion question unaddressed.
Though many of our competitors also use social
for reporting, they mainly view it as an audience
development tool. They told us they also use it as a
hotbed of experimentation because platforms and
user behavior change so quickly.
At The Times, the social team collects less data
and is less integrated with the rest of the newsroom
than at our competitors, hampering our efforts to
identify and spread best practices. Others have
paired social editors with data experts and then aggressively spread lessons through their newsrooms.
“When we figured out the Facebook algorithm
and that Facebook mattered more than Twitter,
traffic exploded,” said Jacob Weisberg of Slate.



The number of Facebook followers counts for a lot. But a more telling indicator of reader
engagement is how many of them interact with content, by posting comments and “liking”
stories. By this measure, many of our competitors are doing better than us.
Number of fans
Number of ‘engaged fans’

Most of the social networks’
traffic comes from
smartphones. That’s why our
competitors say the key to
winning mobile is to win on





% of engaged



Fox News


USA Today













Mobile Traffic
Web Traffic
Source: BuzzFeed


Promotion Squad
We could form a promotional team of experts in
the newsroom to focus on building and executing
strategies for extending the reach of our most important work.
The model used by ProPublica is instructive, with
a team that creates a specific strategy for each story
in advance of its publication. The team includes an
expert to focus on ways to boost a story on search
through headlines, links and other tactics; a social
editor who decides which platforms are best for the
story and then finds influential people to help spread

the word; a marketer who reaches out through
phone calls or emails to other media outlets, as well
as organizations that are interested in the topic. The
story editor also participates to ensure the journalism is being promoted appropriately. And a data
analyst evaluates the impact of the promotion.
Our committee pulled together such a team from
across departments for an experiment with The
New York Times Magazine for the February “Voyages” issue. We let them run the experiment while
we participated as observers. The traffic figures
were underwhelming — actually decreasing from
the previous year — and the process had numerous
stumbles. These results should be instructive for any
future efforts.

The Magazine promotion experiment was not a success. Here are
three lessons we learned.
1. There were disagreements about strategy and no clear leader to
resolve them.
2. The promotion specialists seemed unclear about the tools at
their disposal, so they gravitated to conservative approaches they
knew best.
3. Decisions were made without data, which affected both setting
goals and measuring outcomes.


Growing Our Audience | Promotion

Front-Line Promotion
The Times made a smart decision when it decided
not to establish rules for using social media, preferring instead to trust reporters and editors to exercise their judgment. We gave people the room to experiment and adapt to developing mediums. There
are no rules, but no real guidance, either.
We need to explicitly urge reporters and editors
to promote their work and we need to thank those
who make the extra effort. Interest in and aptitude
for social media should not be required — just as we
don’t expect every reporter to be a great writer — but
it should be a factor. And we need to help journalists
raise their profiles on social by sharing best practices. Our journalists want maximum readership and
impact but many don’t know how to use social media effectively. Content promotion needs to become
more integrated into each desk’s daily workflow.
The notion that journalists should be their own
promoters has become a bedrock principle at our
competitors. For example, Dan Colarusso, executive
editor of Reuters Digital, said, “All web editors engage on social and are also tasked with identifying
related communities and seeding their content.”
Other places test approaches to social engagement and then actively disseminate the results. That
taps into reporters’ competitive instincts, and raises
everyone’s game.
Bearing witness, and sharing

Reporters and editors are eager to do what is
asked of them, as long as they have clarity on both
how and why — as well as some assurance that the
extra effort will be rewarded. Right now, they are
unsure of whether spending time on social represents doing work or avoiding it.
For example, A.O. Scott said that his film reviews
occasionally get an outsize reaction on social. He
is torn between engaging with readers and moving
on to the next story. “It raises the question, when
is pushing it forward the better substitute for doing
more work?”
There are countless examples of smart social
and community efforts around the building. KJ
Dell’Antonia, our Motherlode blogger, spends about
an hour every day replying to commenters. Gina Kolata writes back to all readers who email her. Chris
Chivers makes time, even in war zones, to manage
social accounts on eight different platforms.
All of these reporters complained that the tactics
they use to reach readers are one-offs. They all expressed hope that the broader newsroom could be
given tools and support to help journalists connect
with their audiences.
One approach would be to create an “impact toolbox” and train an editor on each desk to use it. The
toolbox would provide strategy, tactics and templates for increasing the reach of an article before
and after it’s published. Over time, the editor could
teach others.
There is compelling evidence that these best practices can be taught. Many of the reporters who are
best at social promotion — such as Nick Kristof, Nick
Bilton, C.J. Chivers, David Carr and Charles Duhigg
— learned these skills from their publishers as part
of their book-promotion efforts. Andrea Elliott said
she also received this training after signing her book
deal at Random House.


Influencers Map
To help promote the Kristof collection, we pulled
together a list of relevant, influential people who
could spread the word about it on social media.
This work could be automated and turned into an
internal tool, which we could use to help promote
our best journalism on social media. We’ve mocked

up below what an influencer map for “Inside the
Brothels” might look like.
The work paid off. Someone we had contacted
about the collection shared it on Twitter and was
retweeted by Ashton Kutcher, who has 15.9 million





Nick Kristof
opinion columnist
1.46 million followers

Sheryl WuDunn
co-author of “Half the Sky”

Lydia Polgreen
deputy foreign editor and
former foreign correspondent
in India, South Africa, etc

account for “Half the Sky”
book on the treatment of
women around the world

Declan Walsh
Pakistan bureau chief
Salman Masood
Pakistan correspondent
Thomas Fuller
southeast Asia correspondent
Ellen Barry
South Asia bureau
chief, formerly Russia


Growing Our Audience | Promotion

Restore NYC
an NGO
an activist platform




Becca Stevens
priest in Tennessee who has
fought sex trafficking

Minky Worden
director of Global Initiatives
at Human Rights Watch, NGO

Liriel Higa
social media coordinator for
“Half the Sky”

Tom Dart
Sheriff in Cook County,
Illinois active in fighting sex

Andrea Powell
Executive Director &
Co-Founder, FAIR Girls,
non-profit that fights sex

Apne App
an India-based NGO fighting

Bradley Myles
Executive director of Polaris
Project, which fights human

Ashley Judd
actress who has spoken out
against sex trafficking

Ken Roth
executive director of Human
Rights Watch, NGO

Lisa Goldblatt Grace
head of My Life My Choice,
Boston-based group fighting
sex trafficking
Gary Haugen
CEO of International Justice
Somaly Mam
Cambodian human rights


The Times commands respect, conveys authority
and inspires devotion. All of that is captured in the
pride with which people identify themselves as devoted Times readers.
This is our huge advantage as we think more about
connecting with our audience.
This audience is often described as our single most
underutilized resource. We can count the world’s
best-informed and most influential people among
our readers. And we have a platform to which many
of them would be willing and honored to contribute.
Yet we haven’t cracked the code for engaging with
them in a way that makes our report richer.
Of all the tasks we discuss in this report, the challenge of connecting with and engaging readers —
which extends from online comments to conferences — has been the most difficult. But best practices
have emerged on these fronts, as well, and many of
our competitors are experimenting aggressively and
pulling ahead of us.
Aside from social, our main platform for engaging
with readers is moderated comments, a forum that
is respected for its quality but does not have wide
appeal. Only a fraction of stories are opened for
comments, only one percent of readers write comments and only three percent of readers read comments. Our trusted-commenter system, which we
hoped would increase engagement, includes just a
few hundred readers. That has prompted businessside leaders to question their value and newsroom
leaders to wonder whether those resources could be

better used elsewhere.
Our other efforts for engaging with readers —
many of which have been well-received — mostly
have been one-offs. Impressive projects rarely lead
to replicable tools that could be used to elevate our
whole report.
And our offline efforts to connect with readers,
like conferences and cruises, are largely outdated
replicas of competitors’ work, and we have pursued
them without much newsroom input. Meanwhile,
The Atlantic and The New Yorker have created signature events that deepen loyalty and make money
while staying true to their brands.
The newsroom needs to take on these questions
of connection and engagement. We are in a subscriber-driven business, our digital content needs to
travel on the backs of readers to find new readers,
and there is an appetite to know the people behind
our report. We can come up with a Timesian way for
connecting with our readers online and offline that
deepens their loyalty.
The first step is getting more comfortable with
the idea of pulling back the curtain and providing
readers a bit more insight into how we do our work,
which will only deepen their connection to it.
Outlets like NPR and The Guardian, which reach
similar audiences, have used this approach to good
effect. “Few places have that brand, but The New
York Times does,” said Vivian Schiller, formerly of
The Times and NPR, and now head of news at Twitter.


Our reporters and columnists are eager to connect
with readers in this way but many are going to other platforms to talk about the process behind their
work. A recent case in point: Jon Eligon wrote a
gripping first-person account on Facebook about his
experience as a black reporter approaching a white
supremacist in North Dakota.
The good news is we are moving to capture some
Readers want to connect with Times journalists — to get the back
story, learn what we are reading, and join the conversation.


Growing Our Audience | Connection

of this conversation. We recently launched the
“What We’re Reading” email, which curates recommendations of good journalism from around the
web from Times editors and writers. We are offering
a new “story behind the story” feature for premium
subscribers. Similarly, the new Opinion product is
focused on fostering reader-columnist discussions.

User-Generated Content
User-generated content, which has provided our
competitors with a low-cost way to expand their
sites and deepen loyalty, has proved to be a difficult challenge at The Times.
But we already are home to one of the most celebrated forums of user-generated content in publishing: Op-Eds.
In the digital world, though, we are trailing badly
behind our competitors. Many publishers have decided to become platforms, as well. Huffington Post
and Medium have experienced huge growth in part
because they have become a platform for opinion
pieces and guest essays. Others, including CNN and

The Journal, are moving in the same direction.
They have serious quality lapses as a result, but
also big wins and a growing and engaged audience.
The Times has considerations our competitors don’t
— namely, our brand promises readers that everything they has been carefully vetted. We are one
of the few outlets where even comments meet this
But a new generation of startups is training the
next generation of readers to expect participation.
“Our readers do want to show off and what we
could offer them is the imprimatur of greatness,”
said Leslie Kaufman, who covers media.
The Huffington Post’s platform allows anyone to publish content
on its site. Medium enhanced that model with design and curation.
Storify lets users assemble Tweets and videos into storylines.


Expand Op-Eds
One digital strategist compared the world of online
engagement to a cocktail party. Most people, she
noted, don’t want to talk to strangers. They want to
talk to their friends or important people.
Facebook is handling the friend part of that equation. The Times is well-positioned to play host to important people.
We receive dozens of Op-Ed submissions every
day from top thinkers and leaders, and we publish
only a fraction of them. Some of this is quality control. But in many cases, we are simply following the
constraints of print.
The Times has already expanded our footprint in
this area through our new video feature, Op-Docs.
The quality of submissions and audience interest
both have been extremely high, making Op-Docs
one of our most popular and praised verticals.
We should experiment with expanding our Op-Ed
offerings to include specific sections and verticals,
opening up our report to leaders in fields such as
politics, business and culture.
These guest essays, to use the more conventional

term, would help The Times solidify its position as
the destination for sophisticated conversation. The
world’s smartest and most influential people have
long been eager to write for us for the modest payday of $150 a piece. These are often some of our
best-read works — and often provide us with worldbeating scoops.
Imagine if the Arts section had daily Op-Eds from
leading figures in dance, theater, movies and architecture. Or if David Leonhardt’s new venture included daily Op-Eds from smart minds in politics and
academia. Or if the Science section became the leading arena for ideas from scientists and philosophers.
Controversial? Metro does this with Metropolitan
Diary. Business, Sports, Styles and Book Review do
this, as well, with guest essays and other user-submitted features.
Gina Kolata said she frequently receives wellwritten submissions that are too narrowly focused
for the newspaper but perfect for Science. “Often I’m
getting people saying, ‘Can I write an Op-ed?’ Most
of their stuff goes nowhere, but if it did, there’d be
an audience for it.”
We would recommend starting with one or two
desks and establishing best practices.
The Times is an early pioneer of user-generated content. We
stirred controversy in 1976 by giving bylines to readers who
penned Metropolitan Diary entries. We’ve printed Op-Eds from the
likes of Angelina Jolie and Vladimir Putin. And we publish letters to
the editor every day.


Growing Our Audience | Connection

Our events operation is improving but still has a
long way to go to meet the standards of The New
York Times.
Our events are typically built around industry issues that are of interest to both sponsors and corporate audiences.
Events can be about connecting with readers as
much as they are about making money.
NPR has made its journalists the centerpiece of
shows that travel to large concert spaces in cities and
college towns. The Atlantic hosts the well-regarded
and lucrative Aspen Ideas Festival. The New Yorker
reportedly makes a huge amount of its annual revenue from its fun and engaging annual festival.
There is no reason that the space filled by TED
Talks, with tickets costing $7,500, could not have
been created by The Times. “One of our biggest concerns is that someone like The Times will start a real
conference program,” said a TED executive.
Univision recently hosted town halls by reporters about topics that consistently ranked as the
most popular on its website and channels. “We got
around 8,000 people to discuss better ways to manage personal finances,” said Enrique Acevedo, who
hosted the event.
But before we pursue any of these options, the
newsroom needs to be more involved in thinking
through our events strategy.
This is more urgent because in recent years the
events industry has shifted in ways that mirror
changes in the newspaper industry: away from a total dependence on advertising and toward readers
willing to pay.
Rob Grimshaw, the head of digital strategy at
FT.com who has made events an extension of his
job, said his newsroom now views conference attendees much as it does digital subscribers – they
are all simply members of its broader audience.
Our best effort on this front is Times Talks, but

we’ve made little effort to scale them. Those who
have studied the industry say that the most successful approach is to take such events on tour, with
multiple stops for the same line up, or to hold a
single large annual event. Instead, we’re building
each of ours as a one-off.
Many executives and editors at competing outlets
said that The Times is in a unique position to increase and retain subscribers by shedding its modesty and putting forward its best asset: its talent.

Experiment: New Events
The Times should create reader-focused events that
elevate our brand while meeting our standards.
Imagine a New York Times Readers Festival:
An annual event in NYC that anyone registered
on our site could pay to attend, with a few segments
open only to subscribers and premium subscribers.
Possible sessions include: panels on the top stories
of the year, Q&A’s with reporters and editors on certain topics, training sessions on writing, photography and video, talks by a handful of outsiders who
wrote the most-read Op-Eds of the year, a multimedia showcase of our best videos, photos and interactives. We should not underestimate interest in
Times reporters and journalism.


Getting to Know Our Readers
To provide more relevant and meaningful user experiences, we need to first better understand our
readers — who they are and how they use our site.
Currently, our capabilities for collecting reader
data are limited. he information is dispersed haphazardly across the organization and rarely put to
use for purposes other than marketing. And the
newsroom, which is perhaps best positioned to
champion this effort because of its close connection
to readers, has not played a leading role.
The smart use of reader data has been essential
to the success of companies like Google, Facebook
and Amazon. But traditional media companies are
also figuring out this game. The Guardian, for example, recently launched its “Known Strategy,” with
the newsroom leading the effort to improve how it
collects, archives and uses reader data.
“I don’t think we really understood the power of
the data and the audience understanding that came
with the subscription model,” said The Financial
Times’s C.E.O., John Ridding. “We’ve been able to
build a system of understanding our readers.”
LinkedIn offers a good example of how to use
reader data in smart ways. Last year, it sent out
an email to hundreds of thousands of users: “Congratulations, you have one of the top 5 percent most
viewed LinkedIn profiles.” Other sites, like TripAdvisor, tell unpaid contributors when their work is
being widely read and commented on. These feedback mechanisms increase loyalty.
Because the Times has a paywall and has recently
taken new steps to encourage readers to register,
we’re even better positioned to collect such data. But
we don’t do things that our competitors do, like ask
readers whether they would be willing to be contacted by reporters or if they are willing to share some
basic information about their hometown, alma mater and industry so we can send them articles about
those topics.
When the newsroom does seek reader data, too
often we build one-off systems and then we don’t


Growing Our Audience | Connection

store the information in ways that can be shared or
retrieved later. For example, when Libby Rosenthal
tried to email all the people who had commented on
her first medical-cost story to let them know about a
follow-up, someone had to manually pull every commenter’s email address from registration data. KJ
Dell’Antonia paid an assistant out of her own pocket
to go through years of her old emails to pull reader
addresses to let them know about her newsletter.
Readers, though, are eager to share information
if they think it will help us or them. In stories where
readers are encouraged to leave their email addresses to signal that they would be willing to speak
with Times reporters, almost 90 percent agree. Our
competitors have pursued this strategy to build up
reader databases that can be used for both reporting
and promotion. We should pursue this in a scalable,
organized fashion in consultation with the business
When Libby Rosenthal wanted to alert readers about a new story in
her series, someone had to pull the email addresses by hand from
comments posted on her previous articles. The exercise pointed
to an obvious need to create a tool to collect those addresses
automatically and help cement our relationships with readers.

Chapter 2

Our Newsroom

Innovation  March 24, 2014


Strenghtening Our Newsroom |

It is hard to believe that only seven years ago, The
New York Times housed its digital and print operations in separate buildings.
Since that time, the newsroom has undergone a
slow, steady evolution. Each year, our traditional
and digital journalists become more integrated and
more aligned. Each year, our leaders invest more
resources into our digital operations. Each year, we
produce more groundbreaking digital journalism.
Despite these concerted efforts, we have not
moved far enough or fast enough. There is a split in
our digital readiness that is making it harder for us
to thrive in this shifting landscape.
The digital journalism that readers see each day is
exceptional: Graphics, Design and Interactive News
have become industry-leading operations and home
to some of our most talented journalists. But we’ve
made far less progress in the areas that readers can’t
see. These are the eat-your-spinach process and
structure questions we often perceive as getting in
the way of our daily jobs: publishing systems, work-

flow, organizational structures, recruitment efforts
and strategy.
As one digital leader at The Times noted, the
newspaper sets the gold standard not just because
we employ world-class journalists but because we
also empower them with a world-class support system. But we have not yet modernized that support
system for our digital journalism. “Aspirations have
outpaced our technology, templates and workflow,”
said another digital leader.
We must move quickly. Our competitors, which
not long ago were mostly newspapers that lagged far
behind us in digital, are growing in number, sophistication and gaining ground.
The challenge for us is that the new battleground
is not where we are strongest — the journalism itself — but in this second arena that is largely out of
sight. Because our digital competitors adapt faster
to changing technology and trends, their lesser journalism often gets more traction than our superior
journalism. They are ahead of us in building impressive support systems for digital journalists, and
that gap will grow unless we quickly improve our
The Past...


capabilities. Meanwhile, our journalism advantage
is shrinking as more of these upstarts expand their
The previous chapter, which explored the urgent
need to grow our audience, discussed the importance of experimenting, failing, replicability and investing time in the rote work of structured data and
reader data. This chapter focuses more squarely on
process and structure questions and lays out three
steps — immediate, short-term and long-term — we
can pursue to position ourselves to succeed in this
changing landscape.
To become more of a digital-first newsroom, we
have to look hard at our traditions and push ourselves in ways that make us uncomfortable. Too often we’ve made changes and then breathed sighs of
relief, as if the challenge had been solved. But the
pace of change is so fast that the solutions can quickly seem out of date, and the next challenge is just
around the corner. For example, Times Topics, once
our smartest bet to win search, seems archaic now,
and social has emerged as the next critical front for
promoting our work. This era demands that even be...The Present


Strenghtening Our Newsroom |

fore we finish something, we need to start planning
for version 2.0 and 3.0.
The good news is that our journalism remains
rock solid and our financial position is stable. Inside The Times there is widespread enthusiasm —
both from the digitally inclined and more traditional
journalists — to do what it takes to make this transition. And on the business side, new talent and a
shared mission of serving readers has created the
opportunity and enthusiasm to work together and
find solutions.
“This will be a historic year for the media industry. Technology is disrupting every distribution
platform. Consumers are redefining decades-old
consumption habits,” wrote Justin Smith, C.E.O.
of Bloomberg News, in a recent all-staff memo that
echoed similar missives from leaders of media companies over the last several months. “Seizing this
opportunity will require long-term investment and
a large appetite for transformation, risk, as well as a
tolerance for intermittent failure.”

Our Proposals, In Brief
(This page also appeared in the executive summary.)

This shift would provide the newsroom, virtually
overnight, with many of the necessary skills and
insights to take our digital report to the next level.
There are a number of departments and units, most
of which are considered part of the business side,
that are explicitly focused on the reader experience,
including Design, Technology, Consumer Insight
Group, R&D and Product.
These functions represent a clear opportunity

for better integration. Recent initiatives, including
NYT Now, have shown the benefits of collaboration
across these departments. We are not proposing a
wholesale reorganization. But we do believe simply
issuing a new policy ­ collaborating with our col—
leagues focused on reader experience is encouraged
and expected ­ would send a powerful signal and

unlock a huge store of creative energy and insights.

Many newsroom leaders are so consumed with the
demands of the daily report that they have little time
to step back and think about long-term questions.
When we were simply a newspaper, this singular focus made sense. But we must now juggle print, the
web, apps, newsletters, news alerts, social media,
video, an international edition and a range of standalone products.
Our suggestion is to create a small strategy team
with the central role of advising the masthead. The

team would keep newsroom leaders apprised of
competitors’ strategies, changing technology and
shifting reader behavior. It would help track projects around the company that affect our digital report, help the masthead set and evaluate priorities
and conduct occasional deep dives to answer specific questions. And it would facilitate desk-level experiments and communicate the results back to the
newsroom to ensure we’re exploring new areas and
learning from our efforts.

Stories are typically filed late in the day. Our mobile
apps are organized by print sections. Desks meticulously lay out their sections but spend little time
thinking about social strategies. Traditional reporting skills are the top priority in hiring and promotion. The habits and traditions built over a century
and a half of putting out the paper are a powerful,
conservative force as we transition to digital ­­­— none
more so than the gravitational pull of Page One.
Some of our traditional competitors have aggres-

sively reorganized around a digital-first rather than
a print-first schedule. The health and profitability
of our print paper means we don’t yet need to follow them down this path. But it is essential to begin
the work of questioning our print-centric traditions,
conducting a comprehensive assessment of our digital needs, and imagining the newsroom of the future.
This means reassessing everything from our roster
of talent to our organizational structure to what we
do and how we do it.



Reader Experience

The wall dividing the newsroom and business side
has served The Times well for decades, allowing one
side to focus on readers and the other to focus on
advertisers. But the growth in our subscription revenue and the steady decline in advertising — as well
as the changing nature of our digital operation —
now require us to work together.
For the first time, both the newsroom and business side are focused primarily on readers. Exciting
new collaborations are already underway. But our
historical divide has not fully adjusted to reflect this
We still have a large and vital advertising arm
that should remain walled off. But the many business-side departments and roles that are focused on
readers — which we refer to as “Reader Experience”
throughout this report — need to work more closely
with the newsroom, instead of being kept at arm’s
length, so that we can benefit from their expertise.
These departments and roles, which include large
segments of Design, Technology, Consumer Insight
Group, R&D and Product, are now critical to the
newsroom’s efforts, possessing the skills and insights we need to grow our audience and take our


Strenghtening Our Newsroom | Reader Experience

digital report to the next level.
Working closely with Reader Experience is vital to
making sure the experience of finding and engaging
NYT revenue by source.























The departments that need to interact with both the news and
business sides are sometimes called “operational departments,”
“neutral departments” or “green-light departments.” But we
believe “Reader Experience” better describes the work of these
departments. It also underscores why we need to work with them
to fulfill the newsroom’s mission of serving its readers.

with our journalism is as impressive as the journalism itself. And greater cooperation will advance our
goals of ensuring that our journalism is adjusting
to technological and behavioral shifts, reaching a
growing audience and landing with maximum impact.
We want to emphasize that we are not advocating
a huge new bureaucracy, disruptive reorganization,
or a newsroom takeover of these departments. We
are simply recommending a policy shift that explicitly declares that Reader Experience roles should be
treated as an extension of our digital newsroom —
allowing for more communication, close collaboration and cross-departmental career paths.
Such a move would build on the significant improvement in relations between news and business
under the leadership of Jill, Mark and Arthur as The
New York Times newspaper and company have become one and the same. Embracing Reader Experience as an extension of the newsroom is also the
next logical step in Jill’s longstanding goal of creating a newsroom with fully integrated print and digi-

tal operations, since these departments have skills
to build on our digital successes.
In the following pages, we will explain the need
for a closer relationship between the newsroom
and Reader Experience. In the discussion section,
we will explore the lack of clear lines in our current
process, the hidden costs of our reluctance to work
together, and the recent initiatives that have demonstrated the value of collaboration. And in the “how
to get there” section, we will offer some suggested
The very first step, however, should be a deliberate
push to abandon our current metaphors of choice —
“The Wall” and “Church and State” — which project
an enduring need for division. Increased collaboration, done right, does not present any threat to our
values of journalistic independence.

If you were to ask many Times journalists
to draw an org chart of the company,
it might look something like this: the
newsroom and “business-side” functions
on opposite sides of a wall. Even some
groups that are technically part of the
newsroom, like Digital Design, often are
thought to be on the business side. The
two sides are generally discouraged from
working together to protect the newsroom
from financial pressures.











But in reality, many of these “business
side” groups perform vital functions that
have nothing to do with advertisers. They
focus mainly on improving the reader
experience. These groups are building new
products and the infrastructure to support
our journalism. NYT Now, Cooking, and the
NYT5 redesign have shown the benefit of
working with these colleagues.










Outside the newsroom, there are many departments
that are explicitly focused on reader experience.
These include Design (crafting the reader experience), Technology (bringing the reader experience
to life), Analytics* (understanding the reader experience), R&D (imagining how the reader experience may change) and Product (crafting a strategy
for combining many of these elements into a single,
reader-centric experience).
There are many examples of how these departments have helped the newsroom achieve its goals.
For example, the newsroom tried and failed for more
than a decade to clear the logistical hurdles involved
in creating a searchable recipe
database. But a product manager
helped make it happen in a matter of months.
The newsroom had also struggled to find ways to signal to
readers when we had updates to
stories that didn’t quite merit a
new headline or news alert. Design, working with developers, came up with several
solutions, including the new Watching feature for
the home page and the update bullets on NYT Now.
These colleagues have specialized skills that most
editors simply do not possess and they are trained in
the processes of turning ideas into successes.
Everyone we interviewed in these groups — at all
levels — told us that they could do their jobs better
if they were tied in more with the newsroom and our
core report. Indeed, the perception that their roles
were “on a different side” was a source of confusion
and complaint.
“‘News and business’ doesn’t even capture it any-

more,” said the leader of one of these departments.
“These are neutral functions that technically live on
the business side, but they are not business functions; they are operational functions. Developers,
designers, product managers — you could make the
argument that not one of those people belong on the
business side.”
At many of our competitors, these units report to
the newsroom or to both sides, just as design and
technology do at the Times. Indeed, a central reason that digital-first organizations like Huffington
Post and BuzzFeed have succeeded with lackluster
content is because of their excellent product and
technology operations, which are
critical parts of their newsrooms.
But at The Times, the current
structure dictates that our Reader Experience experts often can
only guess at, or simply ignore,
the newsroom’s needs.
Consider the Consumer Insight Group and Business Intelligence, which handle analytics, conduct surveys
and run focus groups. These groups spend each day
thinking about and talking to readers. But they have
focused almost exclusively on issues like how to increase subscriptions, largely because the newsroom
has rarely called on them for help. There are countless ways this unit could be helpful: Are people more
likely to read our new newsletter if it were sent at 6
a.m. or 10 a.m.? Is the newsletter building a loyal audience of return readers? What percentage of those
readers make it to the last item?
Design has long been a critical part of our newsroom. Even so, we heard repeatedly from designers
who said they were treated as outsiders. They said
newsroom editors needed to be more engaged when
designers are wrestling with major questions about

The perception that
roles were “on a
different side” was a
source of confusion.

*We use “Analytics” as shorthand for Consumer Insight and
Business Intelligence.


Strenghtening Our Newsroom | Reader Experience

Ready, Willing And Able
We have an army of colleagues who are committed to helping deliver cutting-edge journalism and
growing our audience. A breakdown of the “Reader
Experience” departments:
ANALYTICS (Consumer Insight Group and Business
Intelligence): ~30 people
The Analytics groups use data to learn about our
readers’ changing habits as well as the effectiveness
of our advertising and marketing. They also gather
direct feedback from our readers about what they
want from our apps and websites. This group translates those needs for Product and Design.
DIGITAL DESIGN: ~30 people
Digital design invents, plans and executes new
features for our platforms and articles. They work
collaboratively with the newsroom, Product, and
Marketing to ensure that every aspect of the reader
experience meets our standards for excellence.
TECHNOLOGY: ~445 people
This department includes roughly two dozen teams
of engineers who write the code that powers our
publishing systems, mobile apps, websites and ecommerce infrastructure. They also build and maintain the digital pipes that keep those applications
running smoothly.
PRODUCT (Core, New, Video, Ventures): ~120 people
Product managers serve as the link between the
newsroom and the business side, balancing various
requirements and interests to ensure the best reader
experience in new products like apps or web features. They have come up with ideas like NYT Now
and work closely with Design, News, Technology,
Marketing, Advertising and Customer Insight.
The R&D group is a hybrid technology and design
group with a long-term focus. They develop tools
that aim to revolutionize the way we gather and
present news, like using drones to shoot video or delivering morning headlines on a bathroom mirror.


our digital future, like experimenting with personalization, rethinking how we organize our content,
and even changing the architecture of stories to
meet new needs.
“We can sit around and come up with ideas all day
long up here, but they have no legs without editors,”
said Ian Adelman, our digital design director.
Collaboration is even more difficult for functions
that are part of the business side. Several people in
R&D expressed frustration over not being informed
of newsroom priorities, leaving them focused mostly
on business-side projects for advertising. At times,
they have tried to guess what may be helpful to the
newsroom, but as a result often end up producing
work of limited utility. “I’d like to be able to use real
information and not make bad assumptions,” said
Matt Boggie, the director of R&D.
Part of the problem is that editors often don’t understand what colleagues who work in these Reader
Experience roles can do to help improve our report.
More fundamentally, though, there is widespread
concern that it is inappropriate to speak with colleagues on the business side’s payroll. “The bottom
line is that people don’t know the lines,” explained
one masthead editor.
We heard from editors who said the fear of impropriety meant that they actively avoided communicating with business colleagues altogether. Others
said they simply waited for approval — even when
it slowed down projects — because delays are considered a lesser evil than the appearance of crossing
lines without permission.
“People say to me, ‘You can’t let anyone know
I’m talking to you about this; it has to be under the
radar,’” said a leader in one Reader Experience department. “Everyone is a little paranoid about being
seen as too close to the business side.”
This distance means that employees on each side
are sometimes unaware that they are duplicating
work or taking opposite approaches to the same
The lack of communication can be intentional: We
heard from people in these Reader Experience units
who felt they had to make sure an idea was complet-


Strenghtening Our Newsroom | Reader Experience

ed and bulletproofed before it could be presented
to the newsroom. And vice versa. This runs directly
counter to best practices, which call for collaborating as early as possible to solve problems. “Both
sides actively don’t communicate stuff from their
side,” said one Reader Experience leader. “I’ve been
in meetings when people have been very clear about,
‘We don’t want to bring them in yet.’ That’s how it is
— there’s the opposite of transparency. There’s not
A significant amount of distrust and skepticism
stems from speaking slightly different languages.
People are referring to the same thing when one
side says “content” or “brand” and the other side
says “journalism” or “The New York Times.” But
these word choices foster perceptions that the business side is crassly commercial and uninterested in

Jonah Peretti, the site’s founder, explained how years
of close collaboration and investment in the dry stuff
— tools, workflow and process — have helped drive
the site’s dizzying growth:
“Our tech team, product team, and data science
team have built a very powerful publishing platform
that allows us to serve our readers better. We have
spent years building publishing formats (lists, quizzes,
video, longform, short-form, breaking news, photo
essays, explainers), stats and analytics, optimization
and testing frameworks, integrations with social
platforms, native-mobile apps, and a user-friendly,
visually pleasing design. This is a massive investment
that is very difficult to replicate, it is part of the
reason that the best editorial talent wants to join
BuzzFeed, and it creates a virtuous cycle where a
growing number of talented people use increasingly
powerful tools to do their job.”

the very thing that makes The New York Times so
special — or that the newsroom is precious about its
work and sanctimonious about its values. The fear
that a single stray word can derail a conversation is
keenly felt, particularly on the business side.
More, better and faster communication is needed. If the masthead were to clearly delineate which
groups and employees can communicate and collaborate without first seeking permission, colleagues
who reached across the news-business divide could
feel more as if they are crossing a state line than navigating a national border.
Our colleagues in various Reader Experience
departments have a vast range of skills to help us
grow our audience and improve our journalism.

The last year in particular has shown the value of
collaboration and how quickly productive relationships can be formed when people are working side
by side.
The newsroom requested a member of the Consumer Insight Group, James Robinson, to work with
Aron Pilhofer on using metrics to help our report.
The masthead recently decided to expand the effort.
Similarly, Danielle Rhoades Ha from Public Relations, who is helping promote our journalism, and
Kelly Alfieri from Product, who is helping coordinate
the many moving parts involved in our coverage of
the Oscars, Olympics and other tent-pole events, are
now based in the newsroom. And the movement is
in both directions — Brian Hamman, previously a
key member of Interactive News, is now working on
the 9th floor.

Torben Brooks

Evan Sandhaus

Libby Gery

Director of User
Experience Research

Director of Search,
Archives & Semantics

User Experience

Torben has led more than 1,000
interviews with our readers
to glean insights about their
news habits. He is an expert
at translating the needs of our
audience to our designers, editors
and product managers.

Evan is perhaps the most
passionate advocate of structured
data at The Times. His team
ensures that the journalism we
produce is tagged and archived
for future use. Evan’s work to
build TimesMachine has brought
life back to millions of old articles.

Libby specializes in user
experience — the art of
understanding reader needs and
designing solutions. She has
has used these skills to redesign
NYTimes.com and invent the
forthcoming “Watching” home
page feature.

Dan Blumberg

Chris Ladd

Reed Emmons

Product Manager

Senior Software

Director of Web

Dan was a producer and host of
WNYC’s “Morning Edition” before
joining The Times to build our
“NYT Everywhere” strategy. Dan
has formed crucial partnerships
with Flipboard, Google and others
to help expand our reach.

Chris is the lead developer for our
Cooking app and previously was
our lead iPad developer. He is
also a former reporter. How many
mobile developers can boast an
A1 byline in The Boston Globe?

Reed is the lead developer of
NYT5 and a newcomer to The
Times. His team built a flexible
workflow system that has sharply
improved the speed with which
we create, test and deploy new
features on the web.


The newsroom mobile team worked closely with
their business counterparts to create a proposal for
overhauling the company’s mobile strategy. That
collaboration gave much more power to recommendations like, “We should take this opportunity to
challenge ourselves about our audience strategy,
namely that our current approach is focused primarily on monetizing an existing reader base.”
The most promising example has been the collaborative efforts, led by New Products under David
Perpich, that are developing innovative experiments
in mobile-first journalism (NYT Now) and digital
service journalism (Cooking).
Cliff Levy has paired with Ben French on NYT
Now and Sam Sifton has joined forces with Alex
MacCallum on Cooking, and each group is supported by a multidisciplinary team that includes Design
and Technology. Working side by side has increased
trust and created a sense of shared mission, captured in their mantra, “Product first, department
second.” In the process they have created tools, like
drag-and-drop and location recognition, that will elevate our whole report.
“It’s the old world where the publisher and the
editor work together,” said Sifton. “They each play
their position and support one another. It’s not lions
lying down with lambs. It’s a mutually beneficial,
symbiotic relationship.”
This stands in sharp contrast to the old models we
sometimes default to, in which one side leads a project and then simply hands it to the other — the business side saying, “go make this,” or the newsroom
saying, “go sell this.”
The original effort for what was then called Need
To Know offers a case study in this unbalanced approach. Initially, the project did not have an editor to help shape the vision, which led to a weaker
product at the outset that did not meet our editorial
standards. (The late addition of Cliff Levy helped to
create a product that is poised to be a journalistic
success, regardless of whether it meets the business
On the other side, the projects being led by David
Leonhardt and Carl Hulse were both newsroom-led


Strenghtening Our Newsroom | Reader Experience

initiatives, conceived of and started without input
from Reader Experience colleagues. Months into
the development of these efforts, Leonhardt and
Hulse both worried they were neglecting questions
surrounding competitive analysis, audience development, platform-specific strategies, promotion,
and user testing. But they felt ill-equipped to answer
“I had no idea who to reach out to and it never
would have occurred to me to do it,” Leonhardt said.
“It would have felt vaguely inappropriate.” (The addition of Kelly Alfieri, a product manager, to the
project has helped.)
There is another compelling reason for the newsroom to engage more with Reader Experience: recruiting and retaining talent. We heard many examples of employees who had turned down more
money elsewhere to work at The Times — developers, designers and product managers are in particularly high demand in this digital world — because of
a belief in the value of our journalism.
However, we risk losing those employees when we
wall them off from our journalism. The divide has
been jarring for product managers coming from other organizations where they were considered part of
the newsroom. One new product manager who relocated to the newsroom said she was shocked when a
newsroom colleague told her that her presence was
unwelcome because she belonged on “the business
This sense of division has prompted the departure
of some of our best developers, exacerbating a talSIMILAR GOALS

Paul Smurl, The Times’s general manager of core
digital products, recently sent an email to his team
defining their mission. It bears some resemblance to
the newsroom’s:
“Core Products continuously invents and evolves our
core web and app experiences to:
1. Fullfill our journalistic mission,
2. Increase reach among like-minded readers,
3. Build deeper loyal relationships with readers,
4. Grow revenue through paid content, advertising
and other services.”

In Their Own Words: Reader Experience
We asked eight leaders of Reader Experience teams about their relationships with the newsroom and how
they’d like to see them improve. Some clear themes emerged — everyone said that collaboration was critically important but said we were currently falling short. And when asked their main points of contact in
the newsroom, we heard the same four names: Ian Fisher, Aron Pilhofer, Nathan Ashby-Kuhlman and
Jonathan Ellis (who just left). Here are some of their thoughts about the current state of the relationship:
How important is working with the newsroom to
your group and its ability to contribute fully to The
Times success?
“We’re ultimately providing all these vessels to
get our world-class journalism in the hands of
our readers, and the newsroom is crucial for that.”
“There’s only so much we can do at arm’s length
from the newsroom by working through product
and technology as proxies.”
“If we didn’t serve the newsroom, we wouldn’t
be serving one of the most important parts of the
company. It wouldn’t be doing our job. The fact
that we can help the newsroom is a really great
reason for people to come work for us.”
How effective is the current collaboration between
your group and the newsroom?
“There’s a long way to go.”
“Right now there is room for a more holistic view
of what the newsroom thinks is important for our
product direction — there isn’t someone I could
talk to about that now who has sway.”
“Our single biggest challenge is we don’t know
what our goals are at any given time. If we don’t
know what we’re trying to get our users to do, it
becomes hard to prioritize effort and evaluate internally.”
“I don’t yet know, if I had an idea, who I would go
to in the newsroom with it.”
“On NYT Now and Cooking, the editors and product managers have worked really well together. It’s
really been the ideal partnership.”

How can we improve collaboration?
“Nathan and Jonathan are the perfect partners:
they know what is wrong and what needs to happen. They are the perfect partners in terms of what
you’d want as a thought partner, but it breaks
down beyond that.”
“Ideally we need people in the newsroom who are
obsessed with social and mobile and digital.”
“The newsroom is really easy to work with right
now, but I don’t think they’re particularly ambitious. There’s not a lot of oomph in terms of articulating where our products should be going. You
get into fiefdoms where there’s a little bit of thinking about it but no bold aspirations.”
“My biggest concern within the newsroom is I
feel a lot of people like Jonathan and Nathan and
Andrew understand how digital works, but you go
above that and it becomes really murky in terms
of understanding.”
“There’s no corollary within the newsroom to the
digital general managers on the business side.”
We interviewed:
Ian Adelman (left)
Digital Design
Paul Smurl (right)
Core Digital Products
Brad Kagawa
Content Management Systems
Rajiv Pant
Technology Management
David Perpich
New Digital Products
Matthew Boggie
Research & Development
Sonia Yamada
Consumer Insight Group
Brian Murphy
Web and Mobile Engineering


ent deficit in Technology that slows down projects.
The vast majority of developers on the eighth floor
we spoke with believed they were not allowed to set
foot in the newsroom, creating a sense of distance
and even alienation from a product they are instrumental in creating. Virtually all meetings among our
digital teams occur in the tower of the building.
One developer who started a “developer/newsroom relations committee,” asked to be added to
the AHOT distribution list so developers could occasionally attend brown-bag lunches. The request was
declined with an explanation of the “church-state
divide.” Not long afterward, he left the company.
It is in the newsroom’s interest to help attract the
best talent for such roles. “Where we can compete is
getting people closer to the mission,” said one highranking developer.
Our Reader Experience colleagues are thinking
strategically about the very questions at the heart of
the newsroom’s digital future. Again and again, we

found that the most forward-thinking approaches
to some of our pressing problems were coming from
Design and Product.
Tapping into their expertise will only become
more critical in coming years, as we wrestle with big
questions about transitioning from a print-first to a
digital-first organization.
But we cannot simply hand off these problems to
Reader Experience. Our role in this partnership is
critical to ensuring our efforts reflect our creativity, meet our standards, minimize our conflicts and
serve the long-term mission of advancing our journalism and growing our audience.

A brainstorming session for the new cooking app.


Strenghtening Our Newsroom | Reader Experience

How to Get There
Generally we believe the group should include
Product, Design, Technology, Analytics, and
R&D. However, not every part of these departments falls into this category – for example, ECommerce in Technology.

Reader Experience without prior permission. For
example, someone starting a new product should
consult Product to learn the best practices for a
successful launch or talk to Consumer Insight to
better understand the target audience.

Create and distribute a clear organizational chart
of the Reader Experience departments that includes a contact person and their newsroom

Masthead editors, desk heads, and platform editors should have blanket authorization to speak
to anyone on the business side. Our most senior
leaders should be encouraged to learn as much as
possible about our strategy for the rapidly changing digital landscape, to ensure that we help shape
it from the beginning.

Masthead, desk heads, platform editors, producers and people in charge of verticals, including
columnists, should be encouraged to work with

New ventures should be developed with collaborative multi-disciplinary teams whenever possible. A product manager should be assigned to
our most important efforts, like The Upshot. A
designer and developer should also be assigned
to key projects as early as possible in the planning
phase. Teams should sit together to foster communication and collaboration.
Newsroom leaders should work closely with
Reader Experience departments to shape digital
priorities. People like David Perpich and Paul
Smurl should be invited to newsroom strategy
meetings on topics like mobile, social and new

Prospective leaders should be encouraged to work
on interdisciplinary projects as part of the grooming process. Leaders like Levy, Sifton, Fisher and
Ingrassia have said that such exposure has significantly improved their understanding of opportunities and challenges.
The newsroom should assign a point person for
each major product area. Because current responsibilities are not always clear, we often react
to discussions rather than help shape them. These
point people should engage with the Product
leads and inform the masthead of priorities and
ongoing work in their areas. This is similar to the
role that Jonathan Ellis played with Alex Hardiman on mobile, or that Nathan Ashby-Kuhlman
plays with Brad Kagawa on Scoop.


Start pilot programs to embed more Reader Experience staff in the newsroom — for example,
embed a developer on a particularly innovative
desk, place a member of the R&D team on the
News Desk, or have a Product manager work with
a columnist for two months.

The newsroom should be engaged in the hiring
process for key Reader Experience positions,
such as product leads who directly touch our report. Similarly, Reader Experience should lend
its expertise when the newsroom is hiring for key
digital positions like platforms editors.

Digital employees in the newsroom should be allowed to take positions in these departments and
vice versa. For example, Brian Hamman recently
made the jump from the newsroom to the new
product team, and has been an invaluable asset,
in part because of the breadth of his experience
and his ability to translate the needs of each side.
Others have turned down such jobs out of fear
that they won’t be able to return to the newsroom.

To help recruit digital talent, hiring managers
should emphasize that shaping the presentation
of our content is a vital and valued journalistic
Orientation for new employees in the newsroom
and Reader Experience should be integrated, exposing everyone to the full range of our readerfocused efforts and the values of our journalism.

Reader Experience employees should be added to
both newsroom and business-side communications and considered welcome at all events.
The newsroom should regularly send emails to all
our Reader Experience colleagues about recent
accomplishments and ongoing priorities, and
vice versa.


Strenghtening Our Newsroom | Reader Experience

The executive editor, C.E.O. and publisher should
communicate reader-focused goals and priorities
broadly to foster a sense of shared mission among
the newsroom and Reader Experience groups.


Newsroom Strategy

Not so long ago, the masthead could focus almost
entirely on the newspaper.
Today, running The New York Times newsroom
means not just creating a daily print report, but also
running a huge web operation, overseeing a growing array of mobile apps, newsletters, news alerts
and social media, as well as guiding an international
edition, a video operation and a range of new standalone products. As Jill said recently: “If you even
stop to catch your breath, you’re falling behind.”
The masthead, in particular, is being asked to fill
two roles: to oversee the day-to-day needs of the
news report and newsroom operations and, simultaneously, to assess the future and chart a new course.
In recent months, the masthead has made the
time to focus on the long-term needs of the newsroom — holding an off-site retreat to address pressing big-picture needs, reassessing the mission of the
magazine, crafting a plan for improving our mobile
report and creating initiatives such as this group, focused on innovation.
But strategy is such a pressing need at this juncture that it should become a permanent newsroom
function, with dedicated staff.
Our recommendation is to create a newsroom
strategy team that serves as an adviser to the masthead. We envision a small newsroom team that

would seek to support the masthead in its goals,
serving to better arm The Times’s leaders with insights and analysis that will make their growing jobs
The core function would be ensuring the masthead is apprised of competitors’ strategies, changing
technology and shifting reader behavior. The team
would track projects around the company that affect
our digital report, ensuring the newsroom is at the
table when we need to be.
This team would include people with strong backgrounds in journalism, technology, user experience,
product and analytics. That expertise would help
the masthead evaluate and set priorities in critical
but less familiar areas like our content-management
system, platform functionality and audience development.
The team would serve as a catalyst for launching
desk-level experiments in these areas and be charged
with communicating those results to the newsroom.
It would also provide valuable training ground for
future leaders by offering a deeper look at the challenges and opportunities facing The Times.
This team would be distinct from the businessside strategy team. But like that team, it would not
have an operational role. It would be a neutral internal adviser dedicated to improving everyone’s game.


The demands of a daily newspaper create a powerful gravitational pull on editors’ attention, drawing
their focus to the short-term — tomorrow’s front
page, the tick-tock for Sunday’s paper, a project
launching next month.
Across the board, newsroom leaders told us that
they are so consumed with the demands of the daily
report that they have trouble finding the time to step
back. In addition to the daily news demands, there
are the daily crises and a packed schedule of standing meetings.
Perhaps the most telling example is Ian Fisher, the
masthead editor in charge of both web and mobile
reports. An average workday for Ian involves writing headlines, scanning the wires, tracking breaking
news and making sure that stories are appearing
correctly on mobile. That leaves him with less bandwidth for bigger strategic questions about our digital
There are others who are explicitly charged with
thinking about the big picture, of course: Tom on
design, Aron on digital, Larry on new initiatives,
and Janet on newsroom management. But these are
some of the busiest people in the newsroom. Perhaps the only ones with more on their plates are Jill
and Dean.
All this helps explain why Rich Meislin, who took
the buyout several years ago, remains such a critical
resource, providing information, insight and counsel about digital issues to a range of people in the
newsroom and on the business side. In addition to
having a deep well of institutional knowledge, he
also has time. “They go to Rich because he’s available and because he’s not dealing with the daily report,” said a masthead editor.
Similarly, desk heads told us they have little time
to step back. “I don’t even have time to think about
these things,” one said. Another suggested that the
relentless work of assembling the world’s best news
report can also be “a form of laziness, because it is
work that is comfortable and familiar to us, that we


Strenghtening Our Newsroom | Newsroom Strategy Team

know how to do. And it allows us to avoid the truly
hard work and bigger questions about our present
and our future: What shall we become? How must
we change?”
This focus on the daily report also extends into
our digital ranks. The mobile team, which should be
one of our most forward-looking groups, spends so
much time making fixes to ensure all our journalism appears in our apps that they say they have little
left to think about how the mobile report should be
distinctive or how to harness new technologies. That
helps explain why it took a group removed from the
daily flow of the newsroom — NYT Now — to fundamentally rethink our mobile presentation.
The people who have spent the most time thinking
about the challenges of our digital future — thorny
topics like personalization, and glaring needs like
better data collection — can be found upstairs, most
often in Product, Design and Strategy. They are also
spending countless hours studying and interviewing
our competitors and our readers, and capturing and
sharing their insights in detailed reports. But their
initiative means the newsroom is often reacting to,
rather than driving, the work on big questions that
are critical to our future.
“We’ve abdicated completely the role of strategy,”
said one masthead editor. “We just don’t do strategy. The newsroom is really being dragged behind
the galloping horse of the business side.”
The business side doesn’t want this imbalance.
They want to work alongside the newsroom to improve the core of what we do. And they know that
if the newsroom were to become a glorified service desk — simply providing the content that fills
the packages that other groups are creating — that
would not be good for the institution.
“I want a partner who has vision,” said the head
of one Reader Experience department. “We wind up
focused a lot on how to get things out the door and
make them successful but not spending enough time
on the one- to three-year horizon.”

We believe a strategy group can help reset the balance in the following ways:
This work is critical but time-consuming. Over the
last six months, we have spent countless hours reading about the latest industry shifts in digital media.
Understanding some developments often required
technical knowledge, and at times, we have relied
on experts to explain the implications.
Staying on top of these trends, particularly in today’s faster-moving media world, requires finding
sources, often in leadership roles at other companies, and cultivating ongoing conversations. Alexis
Madrigal, the tech writer and digital strategist at The
Atlantic, told us how the company was succeeding
on mobile through a focus on Facebook and direct
emails. Kevin Delaney, the head of Quartz, provided
his insights on how to integrate and use developers

in the newsroom, and Laura Evans, the former head
of analytics at The Washington Post and The Wall
Street Journal, helped us understand how those
publications are changing — which shifts we should
mirror and which we should ignore. These relationships also helped us identify promising digital talent.
“I talk to [Nick] Denton all the time. We both
talk to Jacob [Weisberg]. We’re constantly telling each other what’s working, what we’ve experimented with,” said Adam Moss, the editor of New
York magazine, referring to the heads of Gawker and
Slate. “About half the choices I make come about because someone from another site tells me something
worked, and so we adopt it.”
It’s important to capture these conversations as
well, so insights can be widely shared. The businessside strategy group shared with us an 80-page tranNEWS FEED
A strategy team could keep the
masthead appprised of important
industry developments.


script of interviews about social strategy that they
conducted with the leaders at various competitors.
They provided us with detailed assessments of the
mobile functions offered by our competitors, which
quickly clarified where we need to catch up.
A newsroom strategy group should capture, distill and explain the most important developments
and insights to emerge from articles and interviews,
perhaps in weekly emails to the masthead. Such information could also be shared with desk heads and
deputies to ensure that we’re arming the next generation of leaders with the knowledge they need.
The strategy group could also be responsible for
tracking and sharing the most important work being
done inside the building.
Several masthead editors told us there are so
many initiatives that it can be hard to know when we
need to claim our seat at the table. In recent months,
The business side strategy
group regularly produces
research reports such as
these to inform decisions.
A newsroom strategy team
could play a similar role.


Strenghtening Our Newsroom | Newsroom Strategy Team

the masthead has been left out of several important
studies that will affect the newsroom, including a
marketing-led exploration of our audience-development efforts and a detailed assessment of our data
capabilities and needs. In both cases, our senior
leaders were unaware that these conversations were
happening, despite the newsroom’s growing interest
in both subjects.
In other cases, we knew about meetings but failed
to send a senior newsroom leader to represent our
interests. In one instance, several of our businessside colleagues had to speak up on our behalf to keep
the Leonhardt project from being pushed down the
priority list.
A newsroom strategy group could ask for regular
updates on the projects and priorities from various
business units. And it could help our masthead leaders determine when we need to get involved.

The Right Way To Fail
Failure is not something we’re comfortable with in
the newsroom. And for good reason: getting our
journalism right is the foundation of our success.
But that mindset can limit our appetite for and tolerance of risk. Our aversion to failure can also lead
to wasted resources and prevent us from learning
valuable lessons.
For example, our mobile app, “The Scoop,” and
our international home page have failed to gain
traction with readers, yet we still devote resources
to them. We ended the Booming blog but kept its
newsletter going. These ghost operations distract
time, energy and resources that could be used for
new projects. At the same time, we haven’t tried to
wring insights from these efforts. “There were no
metrics, no targets, no goals to hit and no period of
re-evaluation after the launch,” said a digital platforms editor, about our international home page.
When we do shut down projects, the decisions are
made quietly and rarely discussed, to protect the
reputations of the people who ran them. As a result,
lessons are forgotten and the staffers involved become more risk-averse.
By contrast, the business side conducts reviews of
big projects to assess what worked and what didn’t
and then builds those insights into future efforts.
Failures should be recast as important learning
opportunities — that’s the approach at most tech
firms. We should publicly acknowledge when new
projects are discontinued and have an open conversation about what we learned from that investment
of time and resources.
And we should take heart. Perhaps the best example of learning from a failure in the industry can
be found inside our own building. Times Select was
a stunning failure, and was mocked and derided in
all corners of the Internet. In 2007, Gawker called
it “the world’s stupidest pay-for-content barrier to
a good user experience.”
But the knowledge gleaned from that effort
helped us score the single biggest journalistic win in

a decade: the metered subscription model. Our early
“failure” was critical to our later success, providing
many of the critical lessons about how to structure
and roll out our digital subscriptions.

One of the sharpest insights we heard about failure came from Bob Pittman, the C.E.O. of Clear
Channel. He described the importance of continually “weeding the garden” in organizations, to ensure that marginal ideas are not kept alive simply
because of inertia:
“If I try 10 new things and let’s say two are clear
winners and two are clear losers. That means I’ve
got six in between. What do I do with those? Most
organizations let everything live except the clear
losers. And what happens over time is that stuff in
between doesn’t really help you. It takes up a lot of
resources. It’s confusing. It’s muddy.
“And if you let that stuff build up, then pretty
soon my whole organization is basically mediocrity
and gunk. So if you can bring yourself to say, ‘I’m
only going to let clear winners live. I’m going to take
the resources I put for the other eight things and try
again,’ you can keep a crisp organization. And so we
always talk about weeding the garden. Part of it is
being honest with yourself. What really is a winner?
“It sort of goes back to the idea of don’t be afraid
of mistakes. You’ll make a lot of them. I think a lot of
people only want to keep it at two mistakes out of 10,
instead of eight out of 10, because they want to keep
their batting average better. But nobody’s counting
how many mistakes you make.”


Our top editors have razor-sharp instincts for
making tough choices about priorities in news coverage. When big news breaks, we know how many
reporters to put on the story, and we can quickly
work up five-day coverage plans.
But the newsroom leadership doesn’t always have
the expertise needed to identify, prioritize and set
plans for meeting our top digital needs. Sometimes
this means we are less ambitious in our efforts,
sometimes this means we have less of a sense of how
to use our limited resources, and this almost always
means we are too reliant on front-line colleagues
with deep expertise.
The newsroom strategy team, with a range of
backgrounds in the group, could help. Having traditional journalists working alongside people versed
in user experience, technology and product management would allow for holistic and nuanced examinations of problems and solutions needed to push our
digital efforts to the next level.
For example, our content-management system
may be our single most important platform, since it
structures our work in print, on the web and on mobile. But desks and producers spend countless hours
on one-time fixes to the platform, rather than permanent solutions, even when it is clear the problems
will emerge again and again. One senior member of

In recent months, we’ve watched the newsroom
move inexorably to launch a new product, the
Washington morning tipsheet, even though almost
every person involved questioned the approach,
from those working on it to the top of the masthead.
However, few wanted to publicly question the idea.
It may turn out to be a success but we believe a
more candid discussion would only help accomplish
that goal. This is one of several occasions when we
found widespread concern about a strategy but a
reluctance to air it openly. We believe a strategy
group could help give voice to such concerns.


Strenghtening Our Newsroom | Newsroom Strategy Team

the news desk said that leaders would be “horrified”
if they understood the situation, but he felt he lacked
the ability to translate the problems for colleagues
without a deep background in content-management
systems. We heard essentially the same complaint
from those in mobile, Social, Design and Interactive
The strategy group could help in these cases by assessing the problems, explaining the need and then
offering a range of solutions to the masthead.
A strategy group could also help provide a clear
point of contact for leaders looking to innovate, supplying them with the assistance, contacts and best
practices to ensure they are launching new efforts
in a way that makes them more likely to succeed. “I
don’t even know who to ask,” said another department head.
Several desk heads and masthead editors mentioned that “mobile” and “social” and “video” were
all considered priorities at various points. But without tactical recommendations for acting on them,
everyone re-focused on the print report, where their
strengths lie and where the rewards are easily identified. “We’ll do it,” said one department head, about
implementing the digital priorities. “But we have to
be led.”
The strategy group could help the masthead both
create and communicate a clear newsroom digital
priority list. And it could help define what questions should be answered before new initiatives are
launched. What are we trying to achieve? How many
people will be required? How will we measure success? What can we learn from competitors? And how
do we get better over time?
“We need a vetting process for ideas,” said a masthead editor. “What are the ground rules for deciding
what’s worth doing? What are our goals?”
There has been a longstanding tension between
dispersing and centralizing our digital talent. The
choices that result affect the ebb and flow of experimentation in the newsroom.

Right now, we have consolidated digital innovation in desks like Graphics, Interactive News, Social
and Design. This approach has its advantages, ensuring excellent quality control and the highest-caliber work. But one disadvantage is that news desks,
particularly web producers, lack the opportunity to
experiment digitally on their own.
This approach makes scaling up our digital efforts
far more difficult. To succeed in the coming years,
news desks need to be building digital skills. Indeed,
a major reason producers have seen their access to
tools and templates curtailed is because of the concerns that the editors on these desks are unable to
recognize substandard work.
When we have good ideas, we should treat them with the urgency
of a news scoop. Otherwise, we risk letting our competitors get
there first. A year and a half ago, Andrew Phelps presented his
bosses with a tool he developed: an automated, visual homepage
of the day’s report. Editors were enthusiastic, but there was no
structure to support the initiative and after several months he gave
up. More than a year later, an identical featured appeared on The
Washington Post website. Immediately, the NYT business side put
out a request for a designer or developer interested in building a
visual homepage.

This tension between quality control and expanded digital capabilities has been difficult to resolve.
While we have skewed towards centralization, our
competitors are doing the opposite: aggressively dispersing digital talent throughout their newsrooms
with the understanding that people will make mistakes as they build new skills.
A strategy group could help provide conceptual help, structure and guidance to experiments
launched at the desk level, allowing more producers,
editors and reporters to innovate and learn. They
would be familiar with the tools and talents in the
newsroom, Technology, Product and Analytics that
could help bring such ideas into reality.
This would allow us to use desks as laboratories
to answer pressing questions and to develop best
practices. Examples include experimenting with different newsletter designs, testing how to best resurface evergreen content, and trying new approaches
to promoting a story. One priority for the strategy
group would be replicability – encouraging experiments and creating tools and templates that can
then be easily shared with the rest of the newsroom.


Truth Be Told ...
During more than 200 interviews, we heard a lot of unvarnished opinions from our colleagues
about how the newsroom and business side could work together more effectively.
One popular theme: There are times when each side needs to think a bit more like the other.

Long-term growth must be a higher priority for the
business side. This point came up often, not just
from newsroom leaders but from business-side
leaders, too. A stubborn perception remains — even
though it may not be accurate in some cases — that
too many incentives on the business side reward
short-term goals.
One indicator is the troubling decline in our readership. This is even true on mobile, where our focus
on turning casual readers into subscribers led us to
tinker with the article meter to meet immediate revenue goals.
Some of this short-term focus is understandable,
given the strain on our finances in recent years. But
our more solid financial footing allows us to re-emphasize long-term thinking.
It should be noted that Mark has explicitly championed such a shift. But a focus on immediate revenue — “line of sight ROI” — remains a concern. We
were repeatedly told by members of strategy, marketing, product, technology and other key divisions
that business leaders sometimes struggle to value
things that can’t be easily quantified and plugged
into a financial model, starting with our readers. For
example, several people told us that this approach
led us to under-invest in social media, which offers
ambiguous returns even though it is an increasingly
critical method of distributing our journalism and
building audience loyalty.
“Not every proposal should have to fit neatly into
a financial model,” said one member of the strategy
team. “We need a mindset shift that allows us to invest in things we think are important simply because
we think they’re important.”


Strenghtening Our Newsroom | Newsroom Strategy Team


Both business-side and newsroom leaders said that
the newsroom could do a better job of tackling the
trickiest questions head-on. The rapidly changing
landscape demands innovation but too often we put
off setting strategy around controversial issues.
The newsroom’s role as steward of our institutional integrity ensures that it retains veto power
over anything that could be journalistically fraught.
But that also means we must take a more active role
in leading strategy in areas that offer the most promise — and yes, peril — for our digital future.
One reason for our caution is that the newsroom
tends to view questions through the lens of worstcase scenarios. Even carefully phrased suggestions
about metrics or personalization have prompted responses like, “I don’t want to turn our home page
into a collection of stories about cats and celebrities.”
Four years ago, just floating the idea of using bullet
points in mobile article summaries led to someone
being accused of “dumbing down our report.”
Because we set these questions aside, our business colleagues or Reader Experience departments
have often stepped in to fill the void. And the newsroom has historically reacted defensively by watering down or blocking changes, prompting a phrase
that echoes almost daily around the business side:
“The newsroom would never allow that.”
An example of the risk of this hands-off approach
became apparent in recent months. The business
side conducted a wholesale rethinking of our audience-development strategies, and the marketing
department planned to turn to the newsroom to
implement many of the final recommendations. The
newsroom was not consulted in advance.

How to Get There
We believe the team should have, collectively,
strong backgrounds in journalism, technology,
user experience, product and analytics.
The team should have a clear leader. To ensure
it is cohesive and nimble, the team should be no
larger than six people. Members should be collaborative problem-solvers, gifted at persuasion and
eager to work with experts and novices.
The team could include permanent and rotating
positions, which would allow for continuity while
also bringing in new ideas.

The group offers a unique opportunity to groom
future leaders. It also offers an opportunity to tap
into different desks and create new evangelists
for collaboration.
The leader of the strategy group should report
to a single person on the masthead who is senior enough to provide the necessary carrots and
sticks to implement recommendations. But the
group should serve the whole masthead.

The group’s central mission should be to ensure
that newsroom leaders are apprised of changing
technology and shifting reader behavior.
The group could track digital competitors’ websites, apps and strategies and conduct regular interviews with other companies to assess thinking
and best practices. These could be compiled into
weekly reports for the masthead and other senior
The group could provide regular training sessions
for newsroom leaders about the changing digital
landscape. One example is assembling speak-

ers from other digital publications. Another is
arranging a “reader insights boot camp” to help
desk heads understand how readers engage with
their sections.
The group could serve as another contact point
for departments on the business side to ensure
that the newsroom is aware of all projects and
priorities throughout the company. They could
communicate developments to the masthead
with recommendations of when and how the
newsroom should participate.


The team could use its expertise and knowledge
of the competitive landscape to help the masthead evaluate and set priorities in areas like audience development and publishing systems.
It could help communicate digital and innovation goals in the newsroom and on the business
side. It could help assess the resources needed to
achieve each goal and make sure they have specific metrics for success. The team could track ini-

The team could arrange “embeds” in the newsroom for business-side units focused on reader
The team could help facilitate efforts with Audience Development to design and launch desklevel experiments, and then communicate results
back to the newsroom.


Strenghtening Our Newsroom | Newsroom Strategy Team

tiatives and keep the masthead informed of wins
and where we are underperforming.
The team could also be a contact point for reporters and editors with innovative ideas who need
guidance on execution. This could also include
explaining why some ideas aren’t being pursued,
so that people can let go of pet projects that are
going nowhere.


Digital First
We must begin an ongoing assessment of our print
traditions and digital needs.
In the coming years, The New York Times needs
to accelerate its transition from a newspaper that
also produces a rich and impressive digital report to
a digital publication that also produces a rich and





Advertising accounts for
$667M, of which $170M is
digital and $497M is print.

Circulation accounts for
$824M, of which $150M is
digital and $674M print.

impressive newspaper. This is not a matter of semantics. It is a critical, difficult and, at times, painful transformation that will require us to rethink
much of what we do every day.
Our leaders know this and we have taken steps
in these directions. But it has become increasingly
clear that we are not moving with enough urgency.
This may be the single most important long-term
challenge facing the newsroom and its leaders.
There are factors that, understandably, slow this
tricky transition. More than three quarters of our
advertising and subscription revenue still comes
from the newspaper, and most of our employees
have spent their careers building skills to succeed in
print. But the huge majority of our readers are digital, and this represents our single biggest opportunity for growth.
As a business, this is an extremely difficult bal-








Print readers
Facebook fans
Email subscribers
Twitter followers
News alerts subscribers
Mobile readers
Desktop readers


ancing act. It is just as tricky for the newsroom. The
experience of putting out the newspaper informs
almost every element of how we do our jobs, from
the people we hire to how they work to what they
produce. These assumptions — based on the newspaper’s fixed dimensions and hard deadlines — are
so baked into our days that it is easy to overlook
their artificial limitations or the new possibilities we
could embrace.
“The question of what is Timesian has been both
the saving grace and artificial limiter of the newsroom,” said one masthead editor.
The continued profitability of the newspaper has
bought us time. But that head start is eroding. Several billionaires have pledged parts of their fortunes
to creating digital newsrooms. Start-ups, backed by
venture capital, are redefining digital media. And
traditional competitors have moved aggressively to
remake themselves as “digital first.”
“The newsroom of the future is not the current
one dragged into it,” said John Paton, the CEO of
the local newspaper chain that renamed itself Digital First Media. “It is going to be re-built from the
ground up.”
We all wish there were a ready-made playbook for

this shift. But the only real solutions will come from
critical questioning, experimentation and a devotion
to iterative change. The first step is an open-ended
recommendation: The newsroom should begin an
intensive review of its print traditions and digital
needs — and create a road map for the difficult transition ahead. We need to know where we are, where
we’re headed and where we want to go.
That means aggressively questioning many of our
print-based traditions and their demands on our
time, and determining which can be abandoned to
free up resources for digital work .
That also means assessing our digital needs, creating new digital leadership posts and upgrading
digital talent across the newsroom, especially with
people from other innovative organizations and
non-traditional competitors.
Even more important than policy or structural
changes is that the rank and file of the newsroom
take ownership of this transformation. This means
sending clear signals about goals, changing reward
structures and basing promotions on behavior that
moves us toward our digital future.
“If you wait around for a generation of reporters to
do this naturally,” the editor of one competing news
organization said, “You are going to be left behind.”


Around the newsroom, this phrase often is used to
refer to publishing articles on the web before putting
them in print. But outside our walls, digital-first is an
all-encompassing strategy.
Digital-first means the top priority is producing the
best possible digital report, free from the constraints
of the newspaper. The last step is repackaging the
best of that digital report for the next day’s paper.
This transition requires rethinking staffing, structure and work processes from top to bottom.
Companies with no legacy platform have the
advantage of being able to focus entirely on creating
the best digital reports. For newspaper companies,
making this transition can be so challenging that several of our competitors have handed responsibility for
the daily paper to small, stand-alone teams so that
everyone else can focus on digital.


Strenghtening Our Newsroom | Digital First

Nathan Ashby-Kuhlman, our senior editor for digital operations, recently sent a provocative email
to the leaders of our digital newsroom. Calling the
print paper “a powerfully conservative force” in the
newsroom, he warned we were not doing enough to
prepare for our digital future.
The newsroom, he noted, is still governed by the
traditions and limitations of print, and he made a
table-pounding case that we should create content
for a digital report and then use the best work from
that effort to put out a print edition.
“We don’t need to get there by the end of 2014,”
he wrote. “But because this will be one of the most
difficult transitions The New York Times’s newsroom has ever made, it is urgent to start mapping
out a strategy.”
Years of private complaints around the building
suddenly had a very public forum. Others quickly
weighed in.
A top member of our technology team complained
that our changes so far have been “incremental and
reactive,” and he called for a “holistic look at the
way we work — job descriptions, tasks, workflows
and organization — to make us the flexible, adaptable organization we will need to be in order to survive.”
A top platform editor warned that print revenue
was more likely to fall off a cliff than continue its
steady decline. “We have already made great strides
in becoming one integrated, print-and-digital newsroom,” he wrote. “But we actually haven’t gotten far
enough. It’s not enough to be an ‘integrated’ newsroom. We have to become a digital newsroom, a
small subset of which produces a print product.”
And the new executive director for core digital
products called for spending “at least an hour every
week for, I suppose, ever,” discussing this transition. “We start by painting a picture of where we

want to be 1, 5, 10, 20 years from now — a best guess
is fine and we can adjust as we go — and then map
out the steps towards realizing that vision.”
It’s not as if the newsroom has been standing still.
Digital is now part of the newsroom ecosystem. In
some departments, like Graphics, Digital Design
and Interactive News, we have industry-leading operations, and the department heads have been elevated to the masthead. And just this month, the afternoon Page One meetings were recast to be more
of “a look ahead to coverage for digital delivery.”
But to those charged with worrying abut the
newsroom’s future, it’s clear we’re just a fraction of
the way there. And compared to many of our competitors, we’re falling behind.
It may sound like a buzz-phrase, but “digital first”
— as a strategy, a process and a mindset — is taking
hold across the industry. New companies are using
it to lure our best journalists, promising them the
technology and talent to succeed without old constraints.
“It’s so rare to get an opportunity not only to build
something from the ground up, but to build it without the pressure of producing content on a daily basis,” said Eric Bates, who left his role as executive
editor of Rolling Stone to join First Look Media.
Some of our competitors have ruthlessly reorganized in the last two years around digital and grown
significantly. “Once everyone at the senior level really understood this, it prompted a huge intervention, big editorial changes,” said the head of The Financial Times’s digital operations.
Over the last year, USA Today has been integrating digital staff — like developers and social editors
— into each desk. Now, a small team organizes and
designs the print paper. “The best online journalism


Owning The Story
When Michael Sam, the college football player,
decided to announce to the world that he is gay,
he brought the story first to The Times and ESPN.
Our package was well-executed and memorable, but
some of our more digitally focused competitors got
more traffic from the story than we did.
If we had more of a digital-first approach, we
would have developed in advance an hour-by-hour
plan to expand our package of related content in
order to keep readers on our site longer, and attract
new ones. We would have been thinking as hard
about “second hour” stories as we do about “second
day” stories.
Here is what a digital roll-out might look like:

1. Alert the Opinion section in advance to line up a
reaction. Instead, we published a column a
day later.


Resurface our 2011 “Coming Out” series. Since
the series tapped into gay communities, ask the editor for those contacts. We didn’t find a link to this
series in our Michael Sam coverage.


Strenghtening Our Newsroom | Digital First


Organize a Google+ hangout with another openly gay athlete. We later found numerous online video and television appearances with Jason Collins, an
openly gay NBA player, talking about his friendship
with Michael Sam.


Assign a reporter to live-blog Twitter reactions.
We found several sites that beat us at assembling the
reaction. Depite not having an exclusive, Sports Illustrated was the first to report on a backlash among
NFL executives.


Post a short backstory on how we got the interview. SB Nation reported the backstory of our exclusive, and branded it “exclusive.” Its story dominated
Twitter and Google News.

Implement a social promotion strategy the minute The Times posts the story, including reaching out to gay communities and influencers, via
LinkedIn, Facebook and others.
Reach out to Times reporters with large Twitter
followings, especially those with prominence in
gay and sports communities, to tweet the story to
their followers.

Pre-produce video highlights to put clips on sites
like Instagram and Twitter.
Create tools to become a platform for the reaction after the news breaks. For example, we could
create an interactive quiz or survey related to the
draft, or start a moderated discussion thread with
prominent figures.


goes into print at the end of the day,” said David Callaway, the editor-in-chief. “But nothing is native for
The Financial Times was spurred to take similar
steps after its leaders studied changing readership
trends and spent several weeks in Silicon Valley.
They cut the number of editions from three to one.
They moved 200 night production staffers to normal daytime hours. They built up engagement, data
and breaking news teams. And they put print in the
hands of a small group of editors.
“You have to shift the balance of power and work
backwards,” said Lionel Barber, the editor.
Another company, Digital First Media, recently
announced “Project Unbolt.” This initiative, underway at dozens of newspapers (formerly known
as Journal Register and Media News), is meant to
transform “every process, every workflow step.”
Steve Buttry, the company’s Digital Transformation
Editor, said that the effort — named because print
newsrooms typically have digital operations “bolted
on” — has been surprisingly well-received by traditional journalists. “I don’t hear so many resisting,
curmudgeonly, ‘you can’t make me change’ reactions anymore,” he said. “I hear learning-curve types
of questions.”
The Wall Street Journal pledged to join the “digital first” ranks, building a new “real-time news desk”
with 60 people and a new “audience-engagement
desk” with social-media editors and analytics specialists at the center of their newsroom. They are intentionally hiring younger, less experienced employees to speed them up and push for change.
Ezra Klein was one of several prominent journalists who left the security of an established newspaper for a digital-media startup. For Klein, the value
of a guaranteed audience — The Washington Post’s
historic trump card — was eclipsed by the value of
technology and digital talent. Increasingly, the right
technology and talent can build up a big audience
very quickly.
In his announcement, Klein focused on Vox’s content management system, Chorus, as the key draw.
“And behind Chorus is a world-class design and en-


Strenghtening Our Newsroom | Digital First

gineering team that is already helping us rethink the
way we power newsrooms and present information.”
Our own David Carr crystallized the moment in a
recent column. “In digital media, technology is not a
wingman, it is The Man,” he wrote. “How something
is made and published is often as important as what
is made.”
Over decades, we have perfected our formula for
putting out a world-class paper 365 days a year. But
many of our traditions, routines and habits — perfect for the fixed deadlines and constraints of print
— seem increasingly out of step with the digital
For example, the vast majority of our content is
still published late in the evening, but our digital
traffic is busiest early in the morning. We aim ambitious stories for Sunday because it is our largest
print readership, but weekends are slowest online.
Each desk labors over section fronts, but pays little
attention to promoting its work on social media.
Once you start looking at The Times through this
lens, the questions start spilling out: Should our digital report only present what’s new, or should it also
showcase content from our archive that has been
repackaged in creative and useful ways? Is the 7001100 word story, the sweet spot for print, the right
length for digital readers? If weekly columns are
struggling to win repeat readers, how can we build
loyal followings?
Our mindset is to perfect, then release. This
should always be the case for our journalism. But
we must question whether everything needs to meet
this standard. Our competitors are launching new
products or features as betas, and then using vital
feedback from readers — rather than another round
of internal feedback — to improve.
“I’m glad we still have the standards of quality
that we do,” said one Times platform editor. “That’s
what distinguishes us in this era. What bothers me
is when standards are used as an excuse to say no to
an idea.”
We look at our competitors through a print lens,

as well. Newsroom leaders spend a lot of time reading other outlets’ stories. Few are studying their digital strategies — presentation, social presence, search
optimization, navigation and mobile strategy. Fewer
still are spending enough time looking at digital media outlets that we don’t consider competitors.
And even fewer are looking at competitors on their
smartphones. As a result, it is distressingly common
to see mistakes on our apps.
For instance, we noticed that our popular Busi-

no comment
At the bottom of this Kristof column on our mobile app, he invited
readers to comment. But the app does not have that feature.

ness Day columnists showed up at the very bottom
of the business section. That is because our mobile
site is automatically loaded from our web section
fronts. Similarly, we’ve spotted numerous stories
that invited readers to post comments, even though
our iPhone and iPad apps do not allow users to comment. Instead of running mobile on autopilot, we
need to view the platform as an experience that demands its own quality control and creativity.
Moreover, beyond simply recognizing and encouraging new behavior, we must be incentivizing
that behavior through new reward structures.
Most reporters know exactly how frequently
they’ve appeared on Page One in the previous year
— indeed, annual performance reviews often lead
off with that figure. Similarly, desk heads are keenly
aware when they have a dry spell of Page One stories, and backfielders spend countless hours each
week to making sure the pipeline is filled with stories that could be offered for the front page.
To right this imbalance, we need to provide more
feedback. Editors should be monitoring things like
their reporters’ social-media presence and willingness to try new ways of telling stories. And desk
heads should be told if they are not keeping up digitally.
This feedback — which a new analytics unit will
make far easier to provide, based on data — is essential because New York Times editors and reporters
will always be working at capacity. They just need
clearer and more consistent signals. “They mostly
seem to care about the front page and big, giant stories, and that’s great,” one desk head told us. “But
if 13 million people need a news alert, we ought to
know that. It ought to be somebody’s job on the
masthead to tell us that. We do respond, but it’s a
matter of shifting our burdens.”
To help change the culture, we need more and better digital talent.
We often hire in bursts for new strategic initiatives, such as video, or offer promotions when
someone is considering leaving. But these efforts are


In Their Own Words: Digital Departures
The Times is strong enough to withstand the loss of any one journalist. But when a talented digital colleague departs, it can feel more disruptive because our bench is not as deep.
We asked five people who left digital jobs at The Times to explain their departures. Some of the reasons
are well known, such as the lack of growth opportunities. But they also expressed frustration that their
work was not fully understood or appreciated by the leadership. And they complained that their efforts to
elevate our digital report were hindered by tradition and bureaucracy.
Everyone we interviewed said they were passionate about The Times but could not turn down more autonomy, creativity and influence elsewhere. Tellingly, none expressed regret that they left.
Why did you leave The Times?
“I looked around the organization and saw the
plum jobs — even ones with explicitly digital mandates — going to people with little experience in
digital. Meanwhile, journalists with excellent digital credentials were stuck moving stories around
on section fronts.”
“When it takes 20 months to build one thing, your
skill set becomes less about innovation and more
about navigating bureaucracy. That means the
longer you stay, the more you’re doubling down
on staying even longer. But if there’s no leadership
role to aspire to, staying too long becomes risky.”
“I didn’t want to be a straight-up news reporter or
even a straight news editor. I always felt a little bit
outside of what was most core to The Times, and
what The Times was most proud of.”
“I felt stifled by the hierarchy of the organization;
meetings predicated upon meetings that did not
lead to resolution or clear next steps.”
What was appealing about life outside The Times?
“The BuzzFeeds of the world have strong central
leadership with clear digital visions not tied down
by fiefdoms and legacy products.”
“I wanted to learn a lot from a purely digital company that didn’t have complicated print legacy
requirements. I still feel to some extent that The
Times, or large parts of The Times, have a begrudging acceptance of technology.”
“I could pursue my passion and grow as a leader
faster elsewhere, in an environment with less rigid


Strenghtening Our Newsroom | Digital First

roles and a deeper understanding of the possibilities of true digital journalism.”
What can The Times to do retain digital leaders?
“Young digital talent is rarely motivated by money. Typically they are motivated by the potential
to make impact at an organization that speaks
to their values. This is the NYT trump card and
should be played as often as possible.”
“Figure out a way to take a big chance on someone. In 1992, the ‘Today’ show was already a 40year American institution when NBC appointed
26-year-old Jeff Zucker as its executive producer.
We all know the success that happened after that.
But can you imagine something like that happening at The New York Times?”
“Young people have many opportunities and only
the rarest of the bunch will be willing to wait 20
years for the opportunity to truly be a leader. But
find a way to give someone some real authority,
and you may be onto something.”
We Interviewed:
Soraya Darabi: Launched social media at The Times. Founded a
startup that was sold for $10 million and featured on the cover of
Fast Company.
Alice DuBois: Former deputy of digital platforms at The Times
now director of editorial product at BuzzFeed.
Jonathan Ellis: Former senior editor for mobile platforms at The
Times. Joined Mashable to become managing editor for the
growing newsroom.
Liz Heron: Former social media editor at The Times. Joined
Facebook after serving as head of audience engagement at The
Wall Street Journal.
Zach Wise: Former senior multimedia producer for The Times.
Now Associate Professor, The Medill School of Journalism at
Northwestern University.

largely reactive. The newsroom should think about
our hiring needs — including jobs we need to create
— for the next five to 10 years.
Our current approach overvalues journalistic
skills for digital hires and undervalues digital skills
for journalism hires — often because that reflects
how most editors know how to evaluate talent. Indeed, many people hired into purely digital roles
said their clips were the most important factor in
landing their jobs. One department head warned
that we must change our mindset from hiring people
“to continue the legacy we’ve established” to hiring
people “to shake things up.”
This is true for our traditional journalism positions, as well. We need more reporters and editors
with an intuitive sense of how to write for the web,
an interest in experimenting with mobile and social
storytelling, a proficiency with
data, a desire to engage with readers on and off our site, and a nuanced understanding of the shifting competitive landscape. We
have people like Jenna Wortham
and Mike Luo but there are far
too few of them. This is particularly true in the editing ranks, where many desks lack editors who even
know how to evaluate digital work. This is one of our
most pressing needs.
We also must find ways to develop and empower
our existing digital talent so that they can help shape
The complaints from digital staffers in our newsroom are, by now, familiar to our leadership: they
feel their expertise isn’t put to good use, have few
growth opportunities and believe their bosses do not
understand their skills.
The reason producers, platform editors and developers feel dissatisfied is that they want to play
creative roles, not service roles that involve administering and fixing. It would be like reporters coming here hoping to write features but instead we ask
them to spend their days editing wire stories into
As a result, some of our brightest digital staffers

have either left or asked to transition into reporting
or editing because those roles offered a clearer path
for career growth. This creates a troubling dynamic
— we retain our best digital players by putting them
in positions that don’t take advantage of their skill
sets. These are clear signs of our newspaper mindset
trumping our digital mindset.
A number of people who left The Times recently
said they saw only a small number of senior roles
to grow into, and when those positions do open up,
they are often handed to traditional journalists. This
only compounds the problem: Because of the shortage of digital natives in senior leadership, we have
trouble knowing who should be promoted.
Collaborative efforts in the newsroom help develop and empower digital talent, and they provide
more opportunities for our digital colleagues to distinguish themselves with current
leaders. For example, Sam Sifton
said the most transformative part
of his experience working on the
Cooking product has been sitting
side-by-side with software developers. If he raises a question, a
developer will overhear it and start searching for a
solution. Prototypes are created in an afternoon, not
a month.
Kevin Delaney, a former top editor at The Wall
Street Journal who founded Quartz, said that his
technologists and journalists all sit together. “My
conviction is that traditional organizations separate
this process, which really greatly handicaps innovation,” he said. “The developer understands the process because they are involved. Developers are not
Bringing someone from Product, Design, Technology or one of our other Reader Experience units
into the newsroom would make it far easier for them
to spot problems and offer solutions — people like
Renda Morton and Libby Gery, the user-experience
designers who invented the forthcoming “Watching” feature on our home page. Or someone like
Paul Yorke, who has played a crucial role in building our news-alert system into one of the most ef-

Digital staffers want
to play creative roles,
not service roles.


fective broadcast devices in journalism. There have
been some initial efforts along these lines, with Erin
Grau, Kelly Alfieri, James Robinson and others,
and they are worth building on. In another promising sign, Ian Fisher is bringing developers into the
However, our producers provide a case study for
how dispersing digital talent is insufficient without
a clear plan for using them. Many work in a vague,
catch-all position that can be best described as a
“digital person on a desk who is not a reporter or
editor.” First, their bosses need to better understand

their skills and how they could be put to use.
“You can’t take new talent and put them in old
structures where they are second-class citizens,”
said the editor of one competing newspaper. “That
is not real change. You must change the structure
of power.”


The newsroom is unanimous: We are focusing too
much time and energy on Page One. This concern
— which we heard in virtually every interview we
conducted, including with reporters, desk heads, and
masthead editors — has long been a concern for the
And yet it persists. Page One sets the daily
rhythms, consumes our focus, and provides the
newsroom’s defining metric for success. The recent
announcement from Tom Jolly to focus the Page One
meeting more on the web report is a great step in
the right direction, but many people have voiced their
skepticism that it will truly change our focus.


Strenghtening Our Newsroom | Digital First

Here is a typical complaint from a Washington
reporter who frequently appears on A1:
“Our internal fixation on it can be unhealthy,
disproportionate and ultimately counterproductive.
Just think about how many points in our day are still
oriented around A1­­­­­— from the 10 a.m. meeting to
the summaries that reporters file in the early afternoon to the editing time that goes into those summaries to the moment the verdict is rendered at 4:30.
In Washington, there’s even an email that goes out to
the entire bureau alerting everyone which six stories
made it. That doesn’t sound to me like a newsroom
that’s thinking enough about the web.”

Winning The Talent Wars
In the 1990s, the paper of record decided to add
more sparkle to its just-the-facts approach to producing the daily report. We started recruiting writers with voice and style from publications we had
long overlooked, like New York magazine and The
Observer. Color photos soon followed. Then more
engaging graphics.
Now we take it for granted that The Times is a
magnet for the best writers, photographers and
graphics editors in the business.
We’ve arrived at a similar moment.
The only way to ensure that our report keeps pace
is to build a newsroom with a deeper and broader
mix of digital talents: technologists, user experience designers, product managers, data analysts and, most of
all, digitally inclined reporters
and editors.
Or, to set aside those labels
and put our needs in more basic terms, we want makers, who
build tools to streamline our
newsgathering; entrepreneurs,
who know what it takes to launch new digital efforts; reader advocates, who ensure that we are designing useful products that meet our subscribers’
changing needs; and zeitgeist watchers, who have a
sixth sense for the shifting technology and behavior.
Most of all, we need those rare — and sought after
— talents who can check off many of those boxes.
And we need them now. While we receive accolades for our digital efforts like “Snowfall,” we
nevertheless are at risk of becoming known as a
place that does not fully understand, reward and
celebrate digital skills. And many our competitors
— including The Wall Street Journal, The Guardian,
The Financial Times and The Washington Post —
are ahead of us in making such hires a top priority.
Recruiting the right talent is imperative because
the success rate of hiring a digital native — the people who have grown up in a digital world, rather

than adjusted to it — is far higher than moving traditional journalists into digital posts. It’s not just a
matter of possessing a particular skill set. They have
an intuitive sense of how to adapt to the changing
demands of technology and reader behavior.
“You need to build a whole new culture, a whole
new talent base that’s completely dedicated to the
new,” said Justin Smith, the C.E.O. of Bloomberg
News, who earned his stripes transforming The
Atlantic from a money-losing magazine to a thriving and profitable digital operation. “Don’t trust
that people are ever going to be able to transition.”
Similarly, editors at The Financial Times and USA
Today told us that the most important move they
have made in recent years was
to aggressively bring in digital
talent. In both cases, they used
buyouts to make room for new
hires, with a focus on clearing
out reporters and editors who
were actively opposing changes.
Digital media startups don’t
have to worry about retraining
their staffs. “Every year our talent pool gets better and better,” said Henry Blodget, who founded
Business Insider. “A new generation of writers and
reporters grew up in digital, and it’s second nature
to them.”
Attracting digital talent will take more work than
we might think. We assume, rightly so, that ambitious journalists want to work at The Times. But
our storied brand is less of a draw among digital
natives. They are drawn to opportunities to create
something, experiment and solve problems, and rethink how news is made — without the guardrails
and bureaucracy of a legacy organization. It doesn’t
help that we often can’t compete on wages for top
digital talent. But we can compete by pitching ourselves as a great Internet success story, selling potential hires on the satisfaction of helping transform
a world-class, mission-driven organization.

We need makers,
entrepreneurs, reader
advocates and
zeitgeist watchers.


Here are potential steps to attract digital talent:
Identify our skills gaps and aggressively recruit
to fill them.
Make sure our hiring managers understand the
demands of the jobs they’re trying to fill, and can
assess the skills of applicants.
Put less emphasis on traditional journalism skills
in our digital hires, and put more emphasis on
digital skills in our journalism hires.
To bring in new ideas, hire fewer people from
traditional competitors, and recruit more from
innovative start-ups.

Use our journalism as a recruiting and retention
tool, by letting talented technologists, user-experience designers, product managers and digital
strategists work more closely on the report.
Empower and develop our digital talent by asking
them to help shape, rather than simply implement, strategy.
Consider hiring top digital talent at a senior level
to send an important signal about our priorities
to potential recruits.

Digital Stars
Many our of digital colleagues are famous in their fields, though
few in the newsroom are aware of their talents and reputations.
Mike Bostock
A graphics editor in the San Francisco bureau,
Bostok created a library of graphics code used by
publications all over the world. In the tech community, he is a revered figure.

Chris Wiggins
A top data scientist from Columbia University, Wiggins is working to bring more data scientists to The
Times at a time when experts in this field are in
short supply and high demand.

Mark Suppes
An Interactive News developer, Suppes is almost
certainly the only Times employee who has built a
nuclear fusion reactor with about $35,000 in spare
parts. He also built Gucci’s website.

Jeremy Ashkenas
Ashkenas created CoffeeScript, a programming
language. His reputation helps us attract top talent.
“He influences how things are built on the web,” a
colleague said.

Grooming Digital Leaders
We need more digital talent over all, but we also
need more digitally inclined leaders.
This shortfall stems from several longstanding
biases. We rarely hire outsiders directly into leadership positions. We have struggled to groom our
digital journalists for leadership, in part because
we don’t fully know how to use their skills. And we
have a tendency to move traditional journalists into
top digital roles.
It’s critically important to have traditional journalists involved in crafting and implementing our
digital strategy. But having so many of these posts
filled by traditional journalists deprives us of deep
expertise to push our digital efforts to the next level.
We need to understand the demands of such roles
and the skills they require, and to be clear-eyed


Strenghtening Our Newsroom | Digital First

about the trade-offs when pushing journalists into
such jobs without relevant experience. This pattern
of promotion risks, among other things, sending the
message that the only way to move up in the company is through traditional journalism, even on digital
career paths.
When our competitors hire for critical digital
positions, they don’t seek people with print experience; they seek people with the most impressive
An important shift happened recently with the
promotion of Aron Pilhofer and Steve Duenes to the
masthead. The promotions paid off quickly: Both
are responsible for hiring much of our best digital
talent and for launching ambitious digital initiatives. They watch competitors and notice trends —
making the conversation about our mobile efforts
or new products richer.

Assessing The Newsroom’s Digital Needs
Before we can embrace many of the opportunities described in this report, we must first have better understanding of our current digital capabilities and where we need to improve.
We have identified five areas that warrant more investment: strategy, analytics, product, platforms and
audience development. Our competitors — old and new — have been staffing up in these disciplines, and
we must join the battle to better meet our digital needs and to build a deeper bench of digital talent.
What follows is an assessment of these needs, rather than a proposed organizational chart for new hires
in these areas. The precise structure matters less than insuring they have a central role in the newsroom.



Need: Strategy is an implicit part of many jobs but
planning is not centralized. Masthead editors and
desk heads have little time to focus on long-term
strategy. The newsroom does not have a list of priorities to coordinate with the business side. Without
a deep understanding of competitors’ digital strategies, we lag behind on best practices. Innovators in
the newsroom have trouble translating their needs
and executing their ideas.
Opportunity: Create a newsroom strategy team that
would apprise the masthead of changing reader behavior and strategy shifts by new and traditional
competitors. It would help prioritize and communicate the newsroom’s digital initiatives. The team
could conduct studies to answer strategic questions.

Need: The Times’s digital products, especially mobile, no longer set the standard for digital journalism. People who serve as product editors are focused
on short-term fixes rather than long-term editorial
vision. Other products, like email, are neglected. Because the team is understaffed and has little guidance from the masthead, their efforts are focused
on business-side initiatives to generate revenue, not
newsroom needs .
Opportunity: Hire and empower more product editors to help develop reader-facing products for the
website, mobile apps, email, video and community
platforms, as well as the reader-facing features of
cross-platform products, such as breaking news and
personalization. They would work closely with their
product-manager counterparts on the business side
and represent the newsroom’s interests in newproduct initiatives.
Journalism job postings
show that the demand for
digital talent far outstrips
the supply.


Need: There is no single newsroom owner of our
content-management system, Scoop, which is where
all our digital content is created. As a result, our CMS
lags behind systems at the The Huffington Post,
BuzzFeed and Vox in terms of functionality, ease of
use and speed. Our Interactive News department
is a big driver of innovation, but their work is often
not replicable because it is not built into journalistfacing technology. Because the newsroom leadership has not set clear priorities, the CMS technology
team is forced to address minor fixes, often for individual desks, instead of focusing on major editorial
innovation. New-product teams, like NYT Now, had
to work around our publishing systems because they
couldn’t get their work prioritized.
Opportunity: Create platform editor positions to
serve as the newsroom leads on internal products
like Scoop, working closely with colleagues in Interactive News and Technology to identify problems
with our publishing systems and prioritize and build
solutions. Platform editors also could identify successful one-off projects that could be turned into
replicable templates. They could also advocate for
and develop models for structured data and tagging.
Platform editors could work with product editors to
identify how reader-facing product innovations —
for example, a feature to help readers follow a story
— can be absorbed into newsroom workflows and
publishing systems.


Need: We are not aggressive enough about promoting our work so that our content reaches its
maximum natural audience. We lack a presence
on important social platforms, and our Twitter and
Facebook accounts are managed by different departments. Our website editors do not use some strategies for maximizing traffic that are standard practice elsewhere, even though these approaches would
not conflict with our editorial values. A number of
valuable tools like repackaging, personalization, optimization, and direct outreach are not being used
Opportunity: We need to focus on growing our audience and keeping our existing readers on our site
longer. This comes through optimization of our web
site and off-site distribution, especially in social
media. Our content needs a newsroom-driven promotion strategy ahead of and just after publication.
Raising our game in audience development would
help us win back the traffic around our own content
that other sites like Huffington Post are stealing
from us. The need is particularly urgent given the
declining number of people reaching us through our
home page.

Strenghtening Our Newsroom | Digital First

Need: We don’t regularly use data to inform our decisions in the newsroom, which means we are missing out on an opportunity to better understand reader behavior, adjust to trends and drive traffic to our
journalism. This makes it more difficult to set goals
and assess progress. A strong analytics operation is
essential to every one of these digital needs.
Opportunity: Analytics skills are needed in many
parts of the newsroom, including for top-level strategy as well as desk-level decision-making. We need
to hire analytics experts to work with news, platform, and product editors, newsroom strategists
and the people trying to grow our audience. We need
to also work closely with data scientists in the Consumer Insight Group.

How to Get There
Shift the newsroom’s center of gravity away from
Page One. Creating additional measures of success, using metrics like traffic, sharing and engagement could help.

Rethink the “competition.” Ask every department
to develop a list of new competitors for their sections, and encourage their backfield to familiarize
themselves with new apps and digital-only sites.

Assess our processes, workflow, staffing and traditions. Changing what we do will be difficult
without changing how we do it. This means looking critically at every element of how we work. A
first step is listing ways in which we are optimized
for print rather than digital.

Make digital a key part of evaluations. Reviews
should include sections for digital as well as print
performance. This should be the case for the
whole newsroom, particularly for leaders. Has
their desk developed a smart strategy for social
media? Are they open and enthusiastic about experimenting? Are they making smart, digitally focused hires? To do this, we must first clearly communicate digital expectations to our employees.

Ask our editors to read more like our readers.
Each desk should have at least one staff member
monitoring its report on the mobile web, and on
our mobile and tablet apps. Eventually this will
become second nature.

Reevaluate our current digital needs and create
new positions. These range from the top (head
of audience development, head of analytics) to
the lower ranks (developers who build tools to
streamline our reporting processes, a strategist to
manage our undervalued email newsletters).
Assess the digital capabilities of various desks and
fill the holes. We would notice quickly if National
lacked a strong investigative reporter or if Metro
didn’t have a rewrite ace. Similarly, we should
track whether these desks have strong digital talent — not just as producers but reporters and editors. Those with such skills should be encouraged
to share best practices within their desks.
Build the newsroom out of Legos, not bricks. The
right structure for today won’t be the right structure for tomorrow. Our needs will change quickly
and our skills will become out of date. More than

anything we need to make ourselves adaptable.
That means constantly assessing needs, recruiting talent and changing structures. And that
means sometimes creating jobs with expiration
dates to help us in transitional moments.
Add digital specialists to our staffing committee.
Once we have a sense of our needs, we need to
fill them, and a digital specialist who participates
in vetting new hires and promotions would help
us identify gaps and the people best positioned to
fill them. Janet has already recommended such
a move.
Maintain a list of the best talents in digital media
and begin courting them. Right now other companies are aggressively bringing in digital talent.
Because the Times newsroom is behind on many
fronts, like analytics and audience development,
it is even more important that we identify game-


changing and game-improving talent.
Accept that digital talent is in high demand. To
hire digital talent will take more money, more
persuasion and more freedom once they are
within The Times — even when candidates might
strike us as young or less accomplished. Developers, product managers, user-experience designers and smart digital thinkers are commanding a
significant premium.
Find ways to empower our current digital staff.
We want a culture of experimentation in the
newsroom. For example, we could give producers
responsibility for more testing, and then ask them
to share their findings with the organization.
Let employees transfer easily between newsroom
and operational units. In many cases, the best
positions for valued digital employees already ex-

ist — on the business side. It is in our interest for
Product, R&D, Design, Technology and Consumer Insight to have, and to help retain, top talent.
Such moves are often logical extensions of jobs in
the digital newsroom. This would create a huge
new range of senior positions. It would also open
up another pool of future leaders for us.
Identify the rising digital stars in the newsroom.
Show them they are appreciated, and solicit ideas
from them on how The Times can be better. Help
develop their careers and have them help us identify more talent.
Make a star hire. Talent attracts talent, and few
steps would send a better signal than getting another respected digital leader into a senior position. This would also help generate new ideas and

Consider a task force to explore what it will take
to become a digital-first newsroom. We’ve seen a
number of other newspapers take this approach
and more people are discussing this possibility
in our newsroom. Examining what it would take
to become digital-first is a major effort and may
eventually require stand-alone group to lead it.
Consider creating a digital fellowship program.
One way to bring top digital talent into the news-


Strenghtening Our Newsroom | Digital First

room without paying Facebook wages would be to
create a fellowship program in partnership with a
university like MIT and its Media Lab. Infusing
desks with digital trailblazers can lead to fruitful
digital collaboration. Once they’re in the door, we
have a better chance of retaining top performers.
We can recruit “visiting professors” from Google,
Facebook and other companies. Such efforts also
serve as powerful recruiting tools for top talent.

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